CHICAGO – Jeff Fisher may very well turn the St. Louis Rams into playoff contenders. Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field showed that it just might take some time.
The Rams followed a pair of encouraging games the past two weeks by reverting to the ways of the 2-14 group from a year ago. It appears it won’t be a quick fix.
The Rams committed dumb penalties to keep Chicago drives alive. They couldn’t move the ball on offense. And they took a game there for the taking and did nothing with it. The result was a 23-6 loss to the Bears and a 1-2 start to the Fisher era.
“It’s unfortunate,” said running back Steven Jackson. “We took a step back.”
A week after quarterback Sam Bradford had arguably the best game of his career in an upset win over the Washington Redskins, he followed it with one of his worst. Bradford was 18-for-35 for just 152 yards and no touchdowns. He threw two interceptions, including a game-changing pick-6 that turned a 13-6 game into a 20-6 rout midway through the fourth quarter.
With Bradford unproductive and Jackson playing at less than 100 percent with a strained groin, the offense struggled to get anything going all afternoon. They had just 3 total yards in the first quarter and 58 at halftime. It wasn’t much better in the second half.
Despite entering the fourth quarter trailing 10-6, the Rams accumulated just 30 yards on 12 plays and labored to do much of anything. They had just one first down in the final quarter and never saw the Chicago side of the 50-yard line, wasting a golden opportunity for a season-defining win.
The Rams had 11 possessions for the game. They punted six times, were intercepted twice and turned it over on downs when they couldn’t convert a fourth-and-1 to start the third quarter. They mustered just two field goals from rookie Greg Zuerlein, including a 56-yarder late in the first half.
“I think there were a lot of things that when we look at the film, it’s going to fall on us,” Bradford said. “Things we were in control of and just didn’t handle. A tough game for sure, a lot for us to learn from and move on as a group.
“I think the biggest thing for us as an offense is when things aren’t going well, when things aren’t going great, we have to learn to create momentum from within. We can’t wait for it to happen. We’ve got to bring enough energy to create it ourselves to get over that hump.”
Bradford was sacked six times and while some were on the offensive line, some were on him. The third-year quarterback spent way too much time in the pocket and failed to throw the ball away when pressured.
The Bears defense deserves plenty of credit, which the Rams were quick to point out after the game. But the St. Louis offense had just 160 total yards and converted just 3-of-13 third down attempts. Unlike the short-yardage situations the Rams put themselves in last week, the Rams constantly found themselves needing significant yardage on third down Sunday.
“We didn’t convert enough third downs to keep drives alive so you could have a chance to get in the end zone,” Fisher said. “We got beat. We got beat up front. They are very talented, very talented up front, they can rush and when you have to throw to catch up and they make you one dimensional, it’s difficult to do that.
“Turnovers hurt us, they got a bounce on the interception return for a touchdown. We needed things like that, those kinds of bounces today and didn’t get them.”
Added Bradford on the lack of third-down conversions: “We have to be better on first and second down. We put ourselves in way too many third and longs.
“We knew this was a very good defense at defending third and long. It was a position we didn’t want to be in, and I don’t know what the numbers were but we were in it way too often today.”
The Rams knew they couldn’t do something, and they did it anyway. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Winners of three or fewer games in four of the past five seasons, the Rams are looking to overhaul a culture of losing and under-performing players. They took a step back Sunday.
Despite appearing to be moving in the right direction the first two weeks, it looked like the same old Rams for much of Sunday’s game. For each step forward they tried to make, they followed it with two or three steps back.
While it was lack of execution on offense, it was a pair of mental errors that hurt the defense. Overshadowing what was otherwise a solid day on defense, the Rams committed a pair of personal fouls that both kept drives alive and led to Chicago points.
The Rams arguably should have been 2-0 entering Sunday’s tilt after blowing a late lead against Detroit and letting them drive down the field and score the winning touchdown with only a few seconds left. And Sunday’s game was surely winnable as well.
So is it progress that the Rams are being competitive and not getting blown out of the water like in years past? Sure. But Sunday showed that the Rams still have a long way to go.
“We’re going to line up and keep playing,” Fisher said. “I’m proud of these guys, the way they fought today. We’re going to put this behind us and move on.”
The Rams will look to get back on track when they host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.