It seems like an eternity ago, but in actuality it was just two years ago that the St. Louis Rams found themselves in this situation.
But while the records are similar – the Rams were 6-7 and in the playoff hunt with three games remaining in the 2010 season – this year’s Rams team has two decided advantages over that squad: confidence and experience.
The confidence has been present since head coach Jeff Fisher’s first day on the job. Fisher’s self-confidence – a certainty in himself and his decisions that is almost tangible – is infectious in the Rams locker room.
“I think a lot of it does come from the head coach,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “Granted, I think we have grown up as a team. Some of the young guys have matured a lot this year, but I think just Coach Fisher’s attitude and the way he handles everything just trickles down to everyone in this locker room, and that’s why you see us playing with the confidence that we have.”
That maturity Bradford speaks of comes largely from experience. That 2010 team was in uncharted territory when it traveled to Seattle to battle for a playoff spot in early January. For many of the Rams on that team, it was the first time they’d been that close the postseason.
Two years later, many of the core players of that team – Bradford, running back Steven Jackson, linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive end Chris Long – are two years older and wiser. And consider this: in that 2010 season, Bradford and the offense didn’t have a single fourth quarter comeback or game-winning drive to their credit. This season, Bradford has had four comebacks in the final quarter, with three of them going down as game-winning drives.
“The attitude’s just different,” Bradford said. “I think everyone believes in the system, everyone believes that we’re going to make that play this year, whereas in the past, there might have been some doubt. Doing it a couple of times, I think, gives guys some confidence and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to do it this year.”
Still, the Rams still have an uphill climb over the next three weeks. Although they’re in the hunt, the Rams are currently in 10th place in the NFC and will almost certainly need some help if they’re to sneak into the postseason.
One thing that works in their favor is a schedule that plots them against other playoff hopefuls in each of the last three weeks. The Rams get the 7-6 Minnesota Vikings this week and finish their season at the Seattle Seahawks, who currently sit at 8-5 and hold the fifth playoff spot in the NFC. If the Rams don’t advance to the playoffs, they’ll likely have themselves to blame.
That was the case in 2010. That Jan. 2 game didn’t end well for the young visitors, and the Rams watched as the Seahawks celebrated a playoff berth on their home field.
For all the similarities – complete with a week 17 visit to CenturyLink Field on the schedule – it’s easy to see this year’s Rams team bears little resemblance to that group.