This time last year, St. Louis Rams fans were beginning to figure out that it might be a long year.
After narrowly missing the playoffs in 2010 and coming off a 4-0 preseason, hopes were high in St. Louis. And Steven Jackson breaking off a 47-yard touchdown run on the team’s first offensive play of the season didn’t help to temper them. The Rams were the sexy pick to prevail out of the NFC West, qualifying their season-opening 31-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles as a disappointment.
Perspective makes a world of difference. With lesser outside expectations and a long-term approach to rebuilding the franchise, the Rams’ 27-23 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday should be considered a positive. It’s frustrating in that they actually had the game won until Matthew Stafford found a wide-open Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left, but very few people actually expected the game to be as close as the Rams made it. For a team looking to grow and show improvement, a last-second loss to a playoff team in 2011 is nothing to be disappointed about.
Especially promising was the showing from the Rams defense. The Rams intercepted Stafford three times in the first half of Sunday’s game. Stafford only threw 16 interceptions all of 2011. Newcomers Janoris Jenkins, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Cortland Finnegan all picked off Stafford throws, with Finnegan taking his back for a defensive touchdown. The defense also managed to keep the Lions under 100 yards rushing, allowing just 83 net yards.
Not everything was a positive, though. On quarterback Sam Bradford’s only touchdown throw left tackle Rodger Saffold suffered a neck injury that required him to be carted off the field. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jim Thomas tweeted that Saffold stayed in Detroit for tests and observation but that he is expected to return to St. Louis sometime today.
The offense as a whole was underwhelming. Steven Jackson was kept under wraps, managing just 84 yards from scrimmage on the day. Bradford was efficient but couldn’t stretch the defense and finished with just 194 yards passing. No Rams receiver had more than four catches and 55 yards.
Part of the offense’s struggles was the offensive line’s revolving door. Besides Saffold’s injury, center Scott Wells suffered a foot injury that sidelined him. Backup Robert Turner had to step in for Wells, while tackle Wayne Hunter filled in for Saffold. The makeshift line – an issue that plagued the Rams in 2011 as well – struggled to open holes in the running game and allowed Bradford to be sacked three times.
Aside from the defense, one of the brighter spots was rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein. Zuerlein, nicknamed Greg the Leg, connected on field goals of 48, 29 and 46 yards. He showed he could make a big kick in the clutch as well – his last kick, with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter, gave the Rams a three-point lead.
A loss is still a loss, and it’s certain that Jeff Fisher & Co. won’t be pleased with falling short. But with a little perspective, it’s easy to see Sunday was a step in the right direction.