Loss to Bears means return to reality

BY foxsports • September 25, 2012

ST. LOUIS -- The day after a return to reality looked like many afternoons at Rams Park that have come before.

Players scrambled to dress before a meeting. Some spoke about a firm "24-hour rule" to forget the past. Defensive ends Robert Quinn and William Hayes played basketball with a miniature hoop fastened to the left of wide receiver Danny Amendola’s stall.

Through highs and lows, victory and defeat, Week 2 surprise and Week 3 letdown, there’s always another day in the NFL. There’s always another chance to be humbled, to be grounded, to adapt. Nothing is constant or guaranteed.

For the St. Louis Rams, a Week 2 upset over the Washington Redskins inflated positive feelings about football in the Gateway City after the whoopee cushion Steve Spagnuolo era. Yet a 17-point loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday was the needle that popped everything into perspective.

Among the lessons:

Reconstruction of a franchise that went 15-65 over the last five seasons will take time.

A team that includes 17 rookies and about 60 percent roster turnover must learn to play all four quarters (Chicago scored 13 consecutive points in the final 15 minutes).

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s system must establish a respectable ground game -- the Rams were held to a season-low 59 rushing yards -- or risk being exposed against physical fronts.

The Rams must learn to play with a brash style but avoid bonehead plays (penalties by linebacker Mario Haggan for roughing the punter and by safety Darian Stewart for roughing the passer were as senseless as a four-wheel tricycle).

Growing pains are fine as long as the pain includes, well, growth.

"We went in there with a good game plan," said Rams rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who had six tackles Sunday. "Everybody was focused. We just didn’t play good in all phases of the game. … Yeah, it takes time. But as we get that chemistry and that feel of each other and we start playing together, we’ll be pretty good."

That’s the hope for coach Jeff Fisher. No reasonable person in navy and gold expected him to scrub all stains from a lost decade in one month. No reasonable person expected him in one fall to clear the wreckage left by four coaches -- counting interims -- since Mike Martz walked out the door in 2005. No reasonable person expected him in one season to build a team that would threaten for the NFC West title and reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 campaign.

But the fact that the Rams split their opening two games for the first time since 2006, with a favorable chance to win both, suggested the rebuild was on a fast track worthy of Usain Bolt.

The defense played with Cortland Finnegan attitude. They were called dirty and unprofessional. Amendola and Brandon Gibson looked to be trustworthy receiving options. And quarterback Sam Bradford seemed to have reverted to his first-year ways -- the same player who was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after throwing for 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns.

Whoa, hit the brakes on the hype. The Bears ended the Rams’ balloon party, but that’s not a bad twist. It gives a young team -- St. Louis has the NFL’s freshest face with an average age under 26 -- a chance to grow from adversity.

One week, you’re the toast of the NFC West. Seven days later, you’re toasted.

"Obviously, our difficulty was on the offensive side of the ball," said Fisher, whose team earned 160 yards total offense Sunday. "It ends up as a staff, you just point to little things that are all correctable. We didn’t play as well as I think we’re capable. We had a lot of little mistakes that cost us here and there. And we, as well as the players, are encouraged about where we’re going."

Perhaps, and it’s never wise to draw strong conclusions through three games. But this much is clear: In the coming weeks, the offensive line will be dissected more than an unfortunate amphibian in a high-school biology class.

Bradford became an expert on the comfort of Soldier Field’s turf after being sacked six times. No question, St. Louis would be better off with center Scott Wells (foot) and left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) on the field. The o-line was at best a question during camp -- yes, the Wayne Hunter-for-Jason Smith trade actually happened -- but the group’s glue and matchsticks must hold for the young quarterback to have a fair fight all season.

"It’s over with now," said Rams running back Daryl Richardson, who had four carries for 16 yards Sunday. "We’ve got to worry about Seattle now. Everything is put behind. We’ve got to go out and execute and try to get better as a team. … Preparation, man. We’ve always got to play together as a team and play for each other."

The day after a return to reality included perspective.

Nothing is constant.

Everything is open to change.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.