The end of a long year already feels like the beginning of something new for St Louis football. That's a great feeling, and an unusual one, for Rams fans inured to losing seasons.
A fan's normal practice come the first week of January is to stow all their Rams gear and their pride in the upper shelves along with the Christmas decorations and the summer shorts, things that won't be wanted or needed for a long time to come. I don't see that happening this season. While it wasn't a miracle season akin to Dick Vermeil's 1999, I think fans will wear their Rams gear a little longer and with a lot more pride in the coming months.
Jeff Fisher said it best, reflecting on the team's outlook after a tough loss: "I think those guys in that room can stand up and look people in the eye and say, ‘Hey, the Rams are back.’ And that’s what we wanted to accomplish this year."
That's great. But now, what about 2013?
Here are a few resolutions that the Rams should be making, and hopefully keeping:
Steven Jackson: Resolve to come back. We have unfinished business.
After the game was over, Steven Jackson brushed aside any overblown retirement talk, talk that was fanned by his own wistful words last week. Before the game, Jackson suggested, perhaps half-jokingly, that perhaps this was his last season. "Those hits hurt." In the immediate aftermath, though, with competitive juices flowing and a storng sense of unfinished business yet to take care of, he sung a different tune.
"What I said was, I will seek all options and that's an option for me. I love the game of football. I have a lot left in my tank, and let's just get the deal done. How about that?"
Sam Bradford: All eyes are on you to lead. Claim this team as yours.
An interesting point in the fan debate on whether to resign Jackson is whether or not his formidable locker room presence stands in the way of Sam Bradford assuming the leadership mantle here. I personally don't see a problem with having too many leaders, as long as they're all pulling the same way.
But it is clear that this team is increasingly looking to Bradford to lead them, and he will have to step up. This feeling crystallized after the thrilling close of a come-from-behind win in Buffalo, as Bradford shrugged off the elements and mistakes of his own and his teammates' making to march down the field for the game-winning TD.
Chris Long — another strong leadership voice on the other side of the locker room — said it best: "It was one of those drives where you just knew they were going to find a way. There was just that sense they weren’t gonna be denied, and they were gonna take that whole clock, and they were gonna eat it up, and go down and score a touchdown."
If nothing else, having Bradford regain that "not-going-to-be-denied" attitude is a major victory on the Rams season coming off the shambles of 2011. In his fourth year, the Rams QB will find that expectations have been raised again, for him personally as well as for the team. This attitude will carry him well to meet the challenges of the new year, and should help drive his teammates as well.
Danny Amendola: Get healthy, please. You still have much to prove.
Danny enters a critical offseason, a contract year that is going to be very difficult for Kevin Demoff and his agent to come to terms on. What is Danny's value to Bradford and this passing offense? What is the value of a slot receiver on the open market who has missed 21 games in the past two years?
If sensible heads take over, it wouldn't surprise me to see Amendola and Demoff circumvent the franchise tag by signing a mid-value one-year "prove-it" deal. Prove that he can stay healthy. Prove that he can continue to add dimension to his game and to the offense, as he did in the opening weeks of the season. But more importantly, prove that he can take care of himself, and keep himself on the field.
If he can do it, he builds a better case for the big money. If he can't, the Rams will have to prove they can succeed without him.
Brian Quick: The NFL is a year-round job. Get to work.
The days when Brian Quick could out-class and out-talent every other player on the field just by being there ended the moment he stepped foot into the NFL. Now he that knows what an NFL playbook looks like, he needs to dive into it. Go back and watch game film until you wear out the DVR. Keep talking with Sam, with the other receivers, with Brian Schottenheimer and Ray Sherman.
More importantly, keep listening. This is your work.
Go find a receiver camp. Get introduced to Larry Fitzgerald, perhaps the hardest-working and most-professional WR in the game today, who holds his own offseason workouts. Seek out our own home-grown greats, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, and memorize everything they say.
Talent and frame are nowhere near enough to succeed in the NFL. You know that now. What wins is hard work and perseverence and, on this team especially, a non-stop fight. We want to see that fight in year two. A fight for playing time, a fight for separation, a fight for the ball, and a fight for that last inch of football green.
Les Snead & Kevin Demoff: Keep doing what you're doing.
I love the construction of this team, the smart contracts and aggressive approach to the NFL Draft. Now your season truly begins, and there will be decisions that are easy (cut Craig Dahl), and some that are extremely difficult (how to find market value for guys like Jackson and Danny). You'll also have to fend off a round of poachers with coaching vacancies opening up all over the league.
I know draft boards are fluid, and one of the prices of success (ours and the Redskins, whose bounty of picks we own) is a lower draft slot. So these aren't resolutions, they're wishes:
We need thunder up front, especially in the run game. Paul Boudreau has already proven he is a wizard in pass protection, throwing together a collection of warm bodies and producing the first two-game no-sack streak in Sam Bradford's career. But he needs beef to clear lanes in the running game, and give coach Fisher the kind of team he wants.
Just as important, we need play-making on the edges and in the defensive backfield. Maybe Quick is that guy for the offense, but don't fall in love with last year's pick for its own sake. Strive to improve upon it. And somewhere in this draft is a play-making free safety that could take this defense to the next level. Find him. And at all costs, get him.
Jeff Fisher: reach out to a brother in Andy Reid.
I don't know how close Jeff Fisher and Andy Reid are in the coaching fraternity. But if anyone can empathize with Reid right now, having just been dethroned after more than a decade in Philadelphia, it's Fisher. And if anyone's experience has more to offer than Fisher's to Reid, I don't know who that would be.
Reid is openly allowing his name to be floated around the rumor mills, particularly in Dallas. But Fisher could give him some sage advice from his own experience: take a year off. Recharge. Discover a life outside football, and it will make you appreciate coming back to the game all the more.
He was a 36 year-old prodigy of the George Halas-Buddy Ryan coaching tree when he inherited that job, the youngest coach in the league. Reid was 41 when he ascended the Bill Walsh-Mike Holmgren ladder. Fisher was 52 when his time in Tennessee ended; Reid is now 54. Fisher admits he was burned out after coaching in Houston and Tennessee for 17 years. If anything, Reid should be even worse off, after a torturous slog of a season that began with the death of his son.
Philosophically, they come from opposite ends of the coaching spectrum. But in life, Reid would do well to heed Fisher's example, and delay his comeback at least a year.