In a week in which the Rams were coming off a big defeat, lost two starting offensive linemen and canceled a practice because of illness, the deck was decidedly stacked against them heading into Sunday’s game against Houston.
It would have been the easy thing for them to simply pack it in and allow the Texans to do something similar to what happened in Tennessee last week.
But the easy thing has been far from the choice for the Rams all year. And with everything seemingly working against them, they put up another valiant effort before falling 16-13 to Houston on Sunday.
To say that there are no moral victories in the NFL might be a familiar refrain and once again the Rams are taking no solace in the fact that they kept it close, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be proud of the effort they put in once again Sunday.
“This is a tough one,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I am very disappointed but very, very proud. After everything we went through this week and being a little short handed with injuries, the guys were out there battling. I just asked them to play each play for each other and I thought they did that.”
The Rams drop to 1-13 on the season with two games to play while Houston improved to 7-7 with the victory and at least put themselves in the middle of a muddled AFC playoff picture.
For the Rams, perhaps the most disappointing thing is that once again they came up just short of getting a win.
Seven times this season, the Rams have been within one possession (eight points or less) of their opponent going into the closing moments of a game. Only the one time against Detroit were they able to make the play or two necessary to get a victory.
“As a team, we have to learn how to put these close ones away,” running back Steven Jackson said. “We have to grow and mature in that area. But for us to come out and fight like this, there is something to look at and take away from it.”
Indeed, the Rams again found themselves with possession of the ball and the chance to get it done late in the game.
Tied at 13 with 4:36 to go, the Rams had it at their 23. On first down, quarterback Keith Null dropped off a screen pass to Jackson that went 25 yards to St. Louis’ 48.
That left the Rams needing only about 20 yards to get into field goal position for a chance to tie it up. And, of course, a touchdown was reasonable from that distance as well for a possible win.
But the next three plays netted zero yards and Spagnuolo faced a decision on fourth-and-10. With two timeouts and the two-minute warning, he opted for the punt.
“At that point we just needed a field goal to tie it and get it to overtime and punt it down in there,” Spagnuolo said. “We would have been able to get the ball back in decent field position and work our way for a field goal…so that’s why I went with that.”
Although the defense had stopped the run well all day, it was unable to do so when it needed to the most. The Texans ran three times, picked up a first down and were able to run out the clock for the win.
“You feel comfortable with the run defense,” Spagnuolo said. “You knew they had to run it; they forced us to use our timeouts.”
Speaking of feeling comfortable, it was clear that Null was much more settled in this week after taking all of the repetitions in practice.
Null was again poised and made good decisions with the ball all day save for a costly interception in Houston territory that could have resulted in points.
Aside from that play, Null finished with 173 yards on 18-of-27 passing, including the team’s only touchdown of the day, a 2-yard strike to Danny Amendola in the second quarter.
“It was a lot different,” Null said. “It seemed like things slowed down for me a little bit. It was a great opportunity to get out there and play again.”
Meanwhile, even with John Greco and Mark Setterstrom stepping in at guard, Jackson was again able to find holes and create yardage.
Jackson missed time this week with flu-like symptoms and continued issues with his back. By Saturday, he was able to participate in the team’s walk through and suit up to play again against Houston.
Once again, Jackson put out another dogged effort despite his ailments. He finished with 82 yards on 20 carries, adding 41 yards on four receptions.
Perhaps more than any of his teammates, it would again have been easy for Jackson simply to shut it down for the season.
That thought isn’t anywhere near Jackson’s mind, though. When asked why he continues to play, Jackson’s response was simple. “Because I love football and I love this team,” Jackson said.
While there’s no doubting that the Rams’ record isn’t good, they have left no question about the effort they are willing to put forth even when the odds are long.
With two games left to go in the season, that isn’t likely to change.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” end Chris Long said. “We came out here and played hard. That’s our job. But we have got to win, too. We have got to stick together. Nobody is going to pack it in. That’s not what this team is about. We have got to stick together the next two weeks and try to win a ball game or two.”