ST. LOUIS — A week into the season, the outlook appeared bleak for Missouri’s two NFL teams.
The Rams were coming off a 34-6 home loss to Minnesota and appeared to have no answer for a season-ending injury to quarterback Sam Bradford, not to mention a long-term knee injury to cornerback Trumaine Johnson. News got even worse when St. Louis discovered veteran defensive end Chris Long’s ankle injury would keep him out for more than half the season.
Things weren’t any better on the other side of the state, where the Chiefs lost to the lowly Titans at home and two Achilles tears meant Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive tackle Mike DeVito wouldn’t play another down for the Chiefs in 2014. Running back Jamaal Charles went down early in Week 2, and key defensive starters Eric Berry and Tamba Hali have also missed time.
After all of that, it’s rather astonishing just how meaningful Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium will be. Both teams are coming off impressive wins against legitimate Super Bowl contenders last Sunday, and plenty of newcomers have made their presence felt.
"They’re rolling right now," Rams coach Jeff Fisher says of the Chiefs. "As I said all week, it’s a very well-coached team. A lot of talent in all phases, and they made the playoffs for a reason last year."
Kansas City gave San Diego its first home loss in seven games last Sunday, but the Chiefs truly announced themselves as playoff contenders with a 41-14 rout of New England on Monday Night Football in Week 4. Charles and Hali are back and dominating again, and a win would put them just half a game back of the Chargers for the top wild card spot.
St. Louis may not have anyone thinking playoffs just yet, but the Rams proved not all is lost with a 28-26 win over the Seahawks last Sunday. Austin Davis has cemented his job at starting quarterback, leading the team to at least 28 points in three of his last four starts.
"He’s accurate and gets the ball out," Chiefs coach Andy Reid says. "Looks like he’s managing things very well, everybody’s where they need to be. Looks like he’s hitting the receivers."
If St. Louis could have just held onto a two-touchdown lead for a win against either San Francisco or Dallas, the Rams would be even with the Chiefs in the standings. But either way Kansas City appears to be in much better shape based on preseason expectations, not to mention a considerably easier schedule moving forward.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback E.J. Gaines have emerged for a St. Louis defense that still has plenty of room for improvement, and wide receiver Brian Quick may finally be having a breakout year in his third season. The Rams’ running game hasn’t been where Fisher expects it to be, but he has some talented new pieces with the recent emergence of two Auburn rookies, offensive tackle Greg Robinson and tailback Tre Mason, the team’s top rusher the past two weeks.
The Governor’s Cup.
Chiefs coaches have a speedy new toy of their own to complement Jamaal Charles in rookie all-purpose back De’Anthony Thomas, a dangerous punt returner with two carries and two catches since finally getting on the field two games ago after a hamstring injury. Kansas City’s best new offensive weapon has been second-year tight end Travis Kelce, who broke out with eight catches for 93 yards against New England and leads the Chiefs with 24 catches for 307 yards.
"They’re getting the ball to him," Fisher says. "We knew he had that potential, didn’t expect to see it this soon. They do a good job coaching their players."
Despite their recent successes, though, neither the Rams nor the Chiefs have done nearly enough to merit inclusion in discussions of the league’s elite teams. They’re also still battling plenty of injuries, including a new foot injury to the Rams’ Brandon McGee and a knee injury for Janoris Jenkins that could mean St. Louis rookie Marcus Roberson makes his first start at cornerback.
But the two teams are no longer considered among the NFL’s worst, either, and the winner of Sunday’s game will have some significant momentum heading into November. Even the 2-4 Rams, after all the talk of the strength of the NFC West, are just one game out of second place in the loss column and surprisingly close to being a good football team.