ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — By the time the locker room doors had opened and allowed the media in following their 34-6 loss on Sunday, it was obvious the Rams players had taken to heart the message delivered by Jeff Fisher only moments earlier.
One by one the St. Louis players regurgitated some form of their head coach’s words. Yes, it hurts. But it’s only one game, the first game, and there are plenty more still to be played. So they’ll let it hurt for 24 hours. This loss, several players said, would not define their season.
“It definitely won’t define us, like Coach (Fisher) said, but I think it’s a wake-up call for a lot of guys,” veteran linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “If anything, it should humble us and really put us back to work. Are you doing everything you can in practice? Are we doing everything we can in the film room? Are you preparing the best you can? It definitely took the steam out of a lot of expectations just for this opening week, but it’s a 24-hour rule and we’ll swallow it. We’ve got to fix it tomorrow. Then it’s on to the next one. But this one is going to sting real bad for all 24 hours.”
Laurinaitis has seen a lot during his years in St. Louis and a lot of bad football — the Rams went 1-15 in his first season, in 2009, and then 2-14 in his third season — and he had no problem labeling Sunday’s loss to the visiting Minnesota Vikings as “embarrassing.”
But I’ll disagree with Laurinaitis in his summation that the defeat took the steam out of a lot of expectations “just for this opening week.”
This loss feels like much more than that.
This was a Vikings team that went 5-10-1 a year ago, allowed a league-worst 30 points per game and hadn’t won a road game since 2012.
This was a game that, when you scrutinized the Rams’ challenging 2014 schedule, looked like one that St. Louis would have a realistic chance of winning.
Sam Bradford’s second season-ending knee injury in 10 months was a big letdown for a Rams squad that hasn’t had a winning season since 2003 and hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2004.
But yet there was still hope that a game plan that featured a stalwart defense and strong rushing attack — two traits Fisher’s club could claim at times a year ago — could make up for having to rely on aging quarterback Shaun Hill managing an offense devoid of established playmakers.
Instead, the Rams were dominated in all three phases on Sunday.
St. Louis fumbled four times and turned the ball over twice, with two interceptions that led to Minnesota touchdowns. The Rams committed 13 penalties for a total of 121 yards lost. An offensive line that was supposed to be one of the team’s strengths could not protect its quarterback — the Vikings recorded five sacks — nor open up running lanes. A defense that looked poised to emerge as one of the NFL’s best under the leadership of Gregg Williams surrendered 186 yards rushing, had just one sack and could not force a turnover.
“We didn’t play very well today,” Fisher said. “I wasn’t anticipating that out of us. I’m just disappointed.”
So was offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, who said the team’s performance was the “exact opposite” of what they expected.
“These guys have put in way too much work for this to end up like this,” Saffold said. “This team is way too good. I feel sorry for everybody in this room. I know next week it’s going to be a bloodbath because I know nobody is going to want this (expletive) to happen again. Period.”
It’s possible that Sunday’s defeat motivates the Rams and they go on to win in Tampa Bay next Sunday and then against Dallas at the Dome the following week. The Buccaneers and the Cowboys also lost on Sunday, though both showed more than the Rams’ feeble effort.
But it’s more likely that what we saw from the Rams on Sunday is a sign of what is to come for Fisher’s squad. And with Bradford out and the uncertainty regarding the team’s stadium situation, that could make for a really long and exasperating few months in St. Louis.
“This doesn’t define our season but I think it ratchets up the sense of urgency,” Laurinaitis said. “If anyone thought this thing was just going to go extremely smoothly and just a piece of cake type deal and we’re better because on better we’re paper, this is a wake-up call to just go back to work. I’m not saying guys didn’t work, but I’m saying it’s a time to be humble and let that work ethic override anything expectation-wise. It’s a terrible feeling right now, though.”
Nate Latsch has been covering sports in St. Louis for more than a decade, working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports, STLhighschoolsports.com, Scout.com and other newspapers and websites. You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more of his Rams coverage at GridironGateway.com.
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