Monday, September 8, 2008

Losing is one thing; not trying is another


PHILADELPHIA — And with the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams select ...

The thought came to mind early during Sunday's embarrassing 38-3 wipeout of all things Ram by the fierce Philadelphia Eagles. A loss was expected. But the Rams' failure to compete was stunning.

I don't understand how a team can prepare for months to play its first football game, only to emerge from the locker room looking like dead men walking.

No heart, no guts, no pulse ... nothing.

"To me, and I've been around here 10 years, and this is the most talented team I've ever been around as far as pure talent," defensive end Leonard Little said. "But we've got to find a way to take it to the field. And show more on the field. We needed to come out and win this game. And we'd better win right away and get on the right track, because we don't want to go down that same road that we took last year."

It was an appalling afternoon for a franchise that went 3-13 last season.

And it didn't take long for negative thoughts to metastasize.

Unless the Rams respond with a passionate statement about their competitiveness on Sunday when the New York Giants come to The Ed, how much longer will head coach Scott Linehan be able to keep his job?

Are the players trying to get Linehan fired?

How else do we interpret the dive we saw them take in Philadelphia?

Rams ownership and management are steadfast in their support of Linehan, but can the people upstairs at Rams Park really sit idly and throw another season away? Do the bosses want to destroy the remainder of a deteriorating fan base?

And how much longer can Linehan afford to stick with Marc Bulger at quarterback? From the beginning Sunday, the Eagles got into Bulger's head. He threw off his back foot, or hop-scotching around with a nervous pitter-patter of feet. His passes had no authority. Bulger is clearly carrying the scars of last season's assault to the body and psyche.

I'm not saying Bulger is the only problem. Far from it. But a quarterback plays a large part in forming a team's collective soul. And there is no confidence to Bulger's game.

After being punished by the Eagles for four sacks, at least Bulger was able to stand up after the game and take responsibility.

"There's a lot of blame to go around, but I realize it starts with me," he said. "When the quarterback doesn't play well, the rest of your offense won't. If there's No. 1 blame it should start here."

Bulger cares. He's just battered. But the postgame scene in the Rams locker room was disturbing. There was chatter, shrugs, even some laughter. I saw little to suggest that this team was disgusted or even bothered by a 35-point whipping. I've been covering NFL games since 1982, and I've never seen such a carefree locker room in the aftermath of such a humiliating defeat.

A performance like this should have ignited this team's pride and professionalism. But the Rams didn't fight during the game, and they were hardly fighting mad after the game.

Gee, wasn't that swell to see running back Steven Jackson chuckling and yapping with the Eagles on the field after the game?

Symbolic message: This was just another payday for the same old Rams.

And that attitude is unacceptable. Linehan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett didn't have their men ready to play, and the highly anticipated rollout of offensive coordinator Al Saunders' new attack was a bust.

What went down Sunday was a terrible reflection on all of the Rams' coaches. And the criticism of the staff is warranted.

But don't give the players a free pass. There's no excuse for coming out with a flat-line response in the first game of a brand new season. I don't care if the players dislike Linehan. They owe an honest effort to each other, and their customers. Linehan may not be much of a motivator, but that doesn't mean the players should be allowed to steal game checks in the form of a sorry, no-account, tank job.

"We have to find that magic, whatever it is, that's going to get us a momentum roll," Linehan said. "And we have not. We've built very good chemistry as a group, but we've got to build chemistry as a team playing. And I told them at halftime, 'Someone's got to make a play to create the confidence that you need to have.' Because it's about making plays in this league, and Philadelphia made all the plays today. We didn't make any."

Who will lead the Rams back?

Or does anyone even care?

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