Rams give chase, but can’t catch Saints

Week 14: Rams (6-6) at Saints (9-3)

Dec 12, 2010 3:00 CST

STL 13 NOR 31

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Quincy Butler grabs Reggie Bush by the shoestrings. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

The last three road games have had a galvanizing effect on the Rams, as they cleared several hurdles that stood between them and becoming a winning team. And though they lost by a significant margin this week, this game helped define the character of this team, and showed hints of the power they could become.

Three weeks ago, this young team had built a 4-6 record on the strength of four home victories, but had their ephemeral Dome field advantage punctured by the Atlanta Falcons. This blow to their pride would be followed by three consecutive games on the road, already proven to be a treacherous place

This young team broke a streak of losing winnable road games versus the Broncos, then broke an eight-game streak against a division rival by throttling the Cardinals. The coaching staff also cleared a few mental roadblocks, by dialing up the intensity and intelligence on defense, by placing more trust in their quarterback and their passing offense, and essentially learning how to win.

The next plateau to reach? Proving that they belong among the ranks of playoff teams, by beating a squad with a winning record. That will have to wait for at least a week, after Sunday’s loss to the reigning Super Bowl champions. But something else just as significant may have happened: despite a mistake-filled, three-turnover day, Sam Bradford officially made the Rams his team.  

Granted, Bradford has seemingly done everything a rookie could do to earn the trust of his teammates, and he has already led them to as many wins in 2010 as this franchise has had in the last three seasons combined. He has taken hits and bounced back up to deliver strikes. He has made throws that no Rams QB has made in a number of years. He has commanded the huddle and the offense like a veteran. He doesn’t brag about victories, and doesn’t shrug off defeats. On Sunday, though, he showed something else: that he will be the last man fighting for victory, if necessary. 

Scene: late in the fourth quarter, the Rams are driving down the field toward the red zone, a place of peril in this game. This was their sixth trip inside the Saints’ 30 yard line, and the first five went like this: field goal, field goal, interception, missed field goal, interception. The game’s outcome has already been sealed, but the Rams want that touchdown. A Steven Jackson carry on third down gets them to the very precipice, but the ball appears to come out at the one yard line, and Saints linebacker Roman Harper picks up the ball and starts racing downfield towards yet another soul-crushing defensive touchdown. 

But Sam Bradford chased him down, and ran him off the field. As it turns out, the play was ruled dead before the fumble, but that didn’t diminish the spirit of Bradford’s feat. One play later, on a do-or-die fourth down, Bradford shows another layer of toughness that few thought he possessed, shoving through the pile on his first-ever NFL quarterback sneak. 

This game isn’t supposed to be easy. Leading a team out of the depth isn’t supposed to happen quickly. Bradford got his uniform dirty today, doing the hard work alongside the rest of his Rams, but the work is there. The spirit is there. And while the division title is still in reach, that’s just a small goal compared to the larger one of rebuilding this team’s psyche from the the inside of the huddle out. 

Consider that goal accomplished.