For a few fleeting minutes, there was a flicker of hope. After all but sleepwalking for three quarters the Rams managed a field goal and a touchdown in the fourth quarter, chipping into what had been a 17-0 Washington lead. Then linebacker James Laurinaitis picked off an underthrown Rex Grossman pass and returned it 15 yards to the Washington 19.
With 5½ minutes left to play, the Rams were in the red zone with a chance to tie the score.
"There's no doubt when we got that interception, I thought we were going to score," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "We were going to tie the game. Then I thought our defense was going to get another stop; I thought we were going to get it back and go win the game in (a) two-minute drive."
So much for the optimism of youth.
In the end, the Rams reverted to form. And in 2011, "form" on offense translates to dropped passes, missed passes, shoddy pass protection and penalties.
Lots of them.
And so it was Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
An incomplete pass on first down was followed by an illegal shift penalty, and then back-to-back sacks allowed by left tackle Rodger Saffold. Just like that, first-and-10 from the 19 became fourth-and-30 from the 39. The Rams couldn't even get a field goal out of the Laurinaitis takeaway. They were forced to punt and ultimately punted away a chance at the ever-elusive first victory of 2011.
The Rams never got close to scoring range again and fell to 0-4 for the season with a 17-10 loss. Thanks to a bye week, the Rams now have two weeks to contemplate their plight. When they return to action Oct. 16, it will be in Green Bay, home of the Super Bowl champion Packers. Next comes a trip to Dallas on Oct. 23, followed by a visit from the 2009 Super Bowl champ — New Orleans.
The season is slipping away faster than you can say "miscue."
There's no getting around it: If the losses continue to mount, the job security of coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney will be in doubt.
"Every Sunday's a sense of urgency," Spagnuolo said afterward. "If we were 4-0, and we were getting ready to play the fifth game, it would be pretty urgent because you can go the other way pretty quick. So I don't think it changes."
But something must change, because the Rams continue to make the same mistakes over and over.
A week after being sacked a career-high five times, Bradford was sacked seven times Sunday for a new career high. Those aren't the kind of "milestones" the Rams had in mind when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010. Without throwing anyone in particular under the bus, Bradford clearly is getting frustrated with his pass protection, or lack thereof.
"We've got to figure it out," he said. "You can say run 'three-step,' you can say run 'quick game,' get the ball out of your hand quicker. At some point you've got to be able to throw the ball down the field. And in order to do that, you've got to have time to read out the routes because they take time to develop. So hopefully during this bye week — we've got two weeks to get it figured out before we play next. But that's one area where we definitely need to be better."
He continued ...
"I'm not going to lie," Bradford said. "It is getting frustrating, just for the fact that when we put ourselves in situations early in the game where we get behind, we've got to throw the ball to get ourselves back in the game and we've got to pick up chunks of yards. In order to do that, in order to put points on the board, you've got to have time to go through the progressions and read it. I'm not saying there weren't times today where I could've gotten the ball out quicker. I'm definitely going to have to look at the film and see that, too. But we've got to be better."
Saffold, who played so well as a rookie last year but has struggled much of this season, had a particularly tough day against Washington. He was clearly agitated in the locker room afterward.
How can the Rams do a better job of protecting Bradford?
"We've just got to go back out there and take care of it," Saffold said. "Simple as that. It'll come. We've just got to go back to the drawing board and fix the mistakes. That's all it is. That's all you can do every single week. It's not going to change. My answer's not going to change."
All told, the Rams managed a meager 172 yards of offense Sunday, the ninth-lowest output for the team since the move to St. Louis in 1995. Not even the return of running back Steven Jackson to full status for the first time since his thigh injury in Week 1 helped. He gained 45 yards on 17 carries, averaging just 2.6 yards a rush, and caught four passes for 19 yards.
The Rams dropped at least six passes, including two by Mike Sims-Walker and two by Lance Kendricks.
"No excuse," Sims-Walker said. "I gotta catch the ball. That's what I'm here for. I gotta make plays, and I didn't make 'em today."
And there's more. The Rams were flagged for five false starts, four against the offense and one on special teams. False starts usually are much more common on the road because of crowd noise, but not for the Rams.
"Most of those (Sunday) came on hard counts," Bradford said. "We've just got to do a better job of hanging in there."