|FALLSTROM ON FOOTBALL: Winless Rams have become butt of jokes|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 30 October 2007 10:44|
There's more ridicule making the e-mail rounds.
Q: How do you keep a St. Louis Ram out of your yard? A: Put up goal posts.
Q: What do the St. Louis Rams and possums have in common? A: Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.
The Rams went to two Super Bowls in a three-season stretch from 1999-2001, won it all to end the '99 season and were 12-4 in 2003. Now they're the butt of jokes, one of two teams without a win, along with the Miami Dolphins.
Deservedly so for a team whose 0-8 start is the worst in franchise history by two losses. The Rams made most of their bad luck early in the year and injuries that knocked three offensive line starters out for the season and have kept stars Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson in fragile health have deepened the hole.
``I never in my life thought I'd be 0-8,'' tight end Randy McMichael said. ``What have we done wrong that we don't deserve to win a football game?''
When will it end? Will it end? Don't hold your breath, particularly on the road, where the Rams have been manhandled while totaling one touchdown in four losses by margins of 21, 28, 19 and 27 points.
``It's tough,'' Bulger said. ``I know it is for guys who have won Super Bowls. Sometimes, you're just a little outmatched.''
The fallout is difficult to predict. Team president John Shaw has practiced restraint since putting Rich Brooks on notice after a 2-7 start in 1996, his second year as coach and the Rams' second year in the Midwest. Shaw fired Brooks after a 7-9 finish.
Dick Vermeil replaced Brooks and was a sorry 9-23 in the first two years of his coaching comeback, but got a third year. Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner fell into his lap, and the Rams won their first Super Bowl title that season.
Mike Martz got five years of extreme highs spiced with frustrating setbacks, his tenure ending after his illness-abbreviated 2005 season because of constant feuding with the front office.
There's no question Scott Linehan is on the hot seat for a dismal first half and all of those empty seats that come with a product that is not entertaining. The Rams had 95 consecutive sellouts before last year's finale was blacked out on local television, and two of the first four home games this year have not sold out.
The wild card is whether he deserves a mulligan because of the injury woes. Seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in the opener. Bulger missed two starts with a pair of broken ribs and has been unproductive, with three touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Jackson missed a month with a partially torn groin, returned to the lineup on Sunday and briefly energized the team before leaving with a bulging disk in his lower back.
The Rams have been trolling the waiver wire for offensive line replacements, employing three former Arizona Cardinals castoffs, and only tackle Alex Barron has avoided injury.
An educated guess: If Linehan doesn't lose the players the rest of the way and the Rams are able to salvage a bit with a handful of wins, he's likely to get another shot. He plans on approaching the final eight games as a fresh slate with whoever's available.
``There's really no other way to be,'' Linehan said. ``We can't live in the past. How we got here is not as significant as what we do in the second half
``We can do a lot more things in this season than appear right now and I think our players, that's got to be their mind-set.''
Linehan was a successful offensive coordinator with the Dolphins and Vikings before getting his first chance as a head coach at any level. The Rams viewed him as a stable version of Martz, the offensive innovator who preceded him and helped the franchise make it to two Super Bowls before his reign collapsed due to infighting with the front office.
He inherited a talent dearth produced by spotty drafts in recent years, along with aging but still productive stars Pace, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Four players remain from the five draft classes of 2000 through 2004, and character issues have dogged the franchise.
Guard Claude Terrell, a fourth-rounder in 2005, was released last week after being arrested for assaulting his wife, and defensive end Anthony Hargrove, a third-rounder in 2004, was traded last year after he skipped two days of practice and meetings.
Defensive lineman Claude Wroten, chosen in the third round this year despite past legal difficulties, has three tackles all season. Tight end Dominique Byrd, a third-rounder last year, has ongoing legal issues.
Linehan's first season was erratic on the field, if not off it.
After a 3-1 start, a five-game losing streak capped by a shutout loss at Carolina convinced him to hand over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Greg Olson. The Rams finished the year on a three-game winning streak. Bulger and Jackson, who led the NFL with 2,334 yards rushing and receiving, enjoyed career years.
Both were held out virtually all of preseason, a questionable decision in retrospect. Bulger, who took a beating as the linemen kept falling, went three weeks without a touchdown pass before getting one against the Browns last Sunday. Jackson lost two fumbles on consecutive carries in the third quarter of a season-opening loss to the Panthers, with the second turnover leading to Carolina's go-ahead score.
Linehan is optimistic Jackson will be back next week when the Rams are at New Orleans. With Jackson playing, there's hope.
``He brings that much to our team,'' Bulger said. ``He's an electric guy.''
He'll need to provide a lot of juice to get the Rams turned around.