Close call vs. Arizona encourages players
Even after dropping a close game in the opener, the St. Louis Rams have reason to believe they're ready to stop being of the NFL's doormats.
''I'm not going to say it felt different. A loss is a loss,'' cornerback Ron Bartell said after a 17-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. ''They all hurt. But as you can see, we have improved. There's still steps that we need to take to get better, but we are a better team.''
They're far from satisfied. Had enough losing with dignity after dropping their 14th in a row at home, their eighth in a row to Arizona and 15th straight to an NFC West opponent.
''We're not going to accept it anymore,'' running back Steven Jackson said Monday.
Up next is a trip to Oakland (0-1).
Putting a scare into the Cardinals was scant consolation for coach Steve Spagnuolo, who reflected on the many opportunities missed that could have made a big difference. The Cardinals lost four fumbles, usually costly in the NFL, but the Rams failed to convert any of them into a single point.
''It's not good enough to say we played hard,'' Spagnuolo said. ''We've got to win.''
Among the positives: No. 1 pick Sam Bradford showed poise at quarterback in a game that dictated they throw the ball a lot. The rookie was 32 for 55 for 253 yards and three interceptions, the last pick coming on a desperation throw into the end zone on the final play.
The pass total is third-highest in franchise history, with 19 of the attempts coming on two drives at the end of the game. Bradford didn't appear rattled by Cardinals' blitzing schemes and Laurent Robinson, who caught the 1-yard touchdown pass to tie it at 10 on the final play of the first half, was the third option on a designed rollout.
''He commanded the offense in the huddle when he needed to,'' Jackson said. ''He even corrected some calls in the huddle.''
Mark Clayton caught a career-best 10 passes for 119 yards after only three days of practice following a trade from Baltimore. The defense was much improved from last season, putting plenty of pressure on Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson and holding Arizona in check except for one drive when Arizona went 76 yards on five straight runs capped by Tim Hightower's 1-yard run in the second quarter.
''We got a little frazzled,'' middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. ''They had some things we hadn't seen before and when that happens you've got to react to it on the fly. They kept bouncing it outside.''
There were two missed opportunities on fumble recoveries that hurt. Brandon Fletcher had a 43-yard return in the first quarter after Oshiomoghe Atogwe stripped Hightower, but Spagnuolo thought he should have scored and the Rams ended up with nothing when a 34-yard field goal attempt by Josh Brown was blocked. Defensive lineman Clifton Ryan was just shy of the end zone after scooping up a fumble in the third quarter before being stripped, and Arizona center Lyle Sendlein recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Wide receiver Steve Breaston made the tackle, and the strip, besides catching seven passes for a career-best 132 yards. The Rams work on fumble returns and Spagnuolo thought somebody should have blocked Breaston, especially on Fletcher's return.
''We had plenty of guys there. The next part is get your head on a swivel and find the white jerseys,'' the coach said. ''It's a shame.''
The Rams are a young team, with nine rookies on the 45-man roster Sunday. Spagnuolo refuses to use that as an excuse.
''It's not scary, and I'll tell you why,'' he said. ''That certainly was a winnable game.''