It looked like the St. Louis Rams were done. The month of November started with a home loss to the Tennessee Titans, the third straight for the Rams. Their record stood at 3-6, and with the playoff contending Colts and Bears coming up and Sam Bradford gone for the season, it appeared the discussion for the rest of 2013 would center around how high the Rams 2014 draft pick would be.
Jeff Fisher doesnt' think like that, though.
Fisher regrouped his shell-shocked troops, and got them to go into Indianapolis and blow out the then-streaking Colts. After a bye week allowed Fisher to make further readjustments in the middle of the season, the Rams followed up that performance with an equally impressive doubling up of the Chicago Bears on Sunday in the Edward Jones Dome.
Now the Rams are at 5-6, and instead of talking about draft position, the conversation is about whether or not the Rams can stay in the hunt for an NFC wild card berth.
Sunday's game with the Bears was a microcosm of Fisher's "never-say-die" attitude displayed team-wide. The Rams overcame adversity all game long. Lesser teams would have folded their tents, but Fisher's team stuck with their game plan and stepped up the intensity.
When Zac Stacy didn't come out for the second half, things looked bleak for the Rams' offense. Stacy, the new focal point of the Rams offense, had already rushed for 87 yards in the first half, but was ruled out for the second half with a head injury. With Daryl Richardson inactive, the Rams running game would be in the hands of undrafted free agent Benny Cunningham and the disappointing Isaiah Pead, who was already three rooms deep in Fisher's dog house.
Cunningham responded by bettering Stacy's half, posting 109 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own. Pead added a two-point conversion that capped off the Rams' offensive scoring and put the game out of reach.
Cunningham said he was ready when his name was called:
"You never know when your number could be called. You’re always one snap away and that’s kind of how I try to prepare myself.”
Cunningham credited Fisher and running backs coach Ben Sirmans for the "brutal" practices in pads that have helped the Rams regain their toughness.
The offense wasn't the only unit to bounce back Sunday. The defense had been relentlessly pressuring Bears QB Josh McCown all day, but McCown proved an elusive target. It appeared the defense's back had finally been broken when the Bears scored a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to bring Chicago within six points. The score came on the Bears' third attempt at first and goal from the one yard line. The last came after Michael Brockers had sacked McCown, seemingly ending the touchdown threat. But referee Jerome Boger flagged Brockers for a personal foul, giving the Bears four new downs.
Again, lesser teams would have folded, but not Fisher's Rams. After the Cunningham and the offense drove the ball down the field, eating up over four minutes of the clock to take a 14 point lead, Robert Quinn sealed the deal with a strip of McCown which he scooped up and took in for the score.
Brockers sees his young teammates maturing and starting to gain a measure of consistency:
“I think we were just putting the games together. We lost a close one to Seattle. We lost close to the Titans. I think it was about time for this team to step up and kick the young stuff to the curb and understand that this team is a great team. Everybody is good in this league and we just have to make those plays.”
That statement is Jeff Fisher in a nutshell. No excuses, just make plays. Whether or not the Rams are able to complete this improbable run remains to be seen. Three divisional road games and a home contest with New Orleans mean that the path is straight uphill.
We can count on one thing, though. Jeff Fisher's team won't ever give up.
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