The playoffs were a longshot anyway, and even though those hopes were virtually gone after a 36-22 loss to Minnesota Sunday, there is a lot to play for in the final two games of the season, beginning Sunday in Tampa Bay.
"We're going to play and play hard and finish up strong," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We're going to come back and practice and get ready to win the next ball game. So, that's our approach. We've got a good thing going in that locker room and we're going to continue with it."
The same theme was endorsed by quarterback Sam Bradford, who said the team will abide by "the same approach that we've had all year. We're going to look at the things that we did well this week and try to build on those. We're going to look at the things that we need to get corrected, we're going to try to improve on those, and we're going to try to get better these next few weeks. Win two games (to be 8-7-1) and build on that going into next year."
It was Bradford who acknowledged disappointment when Fisher told the team afterward they were out of the playoff race, even though that isn't the case.
"It's pretty disheartening," Bradford said. "Obviously, we knew that we had a shot and if we wanted to do that we were going to probably have to win the remainder of our games. This being our last home game it was probably one of our best opportunities for a victory. So to not be able to win this game at home is extremely frustrating."
When asked about the post-season, running back Steven Jackson said, "I definitely was hoping that we could. We knew that we had to take each game one at a time and we had to win. Today we did not get it done and now I have to show these guys how to finish strong. These two games we want to go out and win. They're going to be tough because they're on the road, but you want to build something to go into the offseason to build off of."
Things fell apart against the Vikings in a stretch of the second quarter that saw a 7-7 game turn into a 30-7 halftime deficit. In three possessions after running back Adrian Peterson gave Minnesota a 14-7 lead with an 82-yard touchdown run, the Rams totaled two yards on nine plays and two possessions ended with a fumbled snap and a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Concluded Bradford, "The first half, it was just bad football. We didn't play well. We did the exact things that we knew we couldn't do if we wanted to win the game. We got behind, we didn't control the football, we turned the football over. We talked about it all week and then didn't execute in the first half and then we just fell behind."
Even at the end of the first half, there was a six-point swing that made the score worse. With the count 27-7, kicker Greg Zuerlein missed a 57-yard field goal that gave the Vikings the ball at their own 47-yard line.
It took them just four plays, two of which were passes to running back Toby Gerhart that gained 21 yards to get in position for a 42-yard field goal that resulted in a 30-7 halftime lead.
As Fisher said, “What we allowed them to do was we allowed them to play to their strengths, which is we allowed them to get up and then allowed them to run the football and rush the passer. That’s the way they’re built. They do that pretty well.”
While Vikings running back Adrian Peterson galloped for 212 yards, it didn’t feel like that’s what cost the Rams the game. Yes, there was the 82-yard touchdown and a 52-yard run after the Rams had sliced Minnesota’s lead to 33-22 in the fourth quarter. But the Vikings gained only 110 other yards, and Peterson’s 22 other carries totaled just 78 yards.
“He’s really good,” Fisher understated. “You can never relax. Every time he touches the ball he’s got a chance to go. Now yes, we played a lot of good, solid defensive snaps, but we had two that were not good.”
Rams defensive end Chris Long summed up the somber mood in the locker room when asked if he was surprised at how the game got out of hand in the first half.
He said, “I am a little surprised, but when you shoot yourself in the foot the way we did, it can happen. NFL teams are too good and that’s a good team. They have good people. I’m disappointed because I know we can play better.
“But this group will get there eventually. We know we have a good thing going that’s only going to get better.”
Playoff reality: Obviously, it’s probably the longest of longshots, but the Rams’ playoff hopes did not expire with the loss to Minnesota. Thus, it was odd to learn that Fisher apparently told the team after the game making the post-season couldn’t happen.
Here is the bottom line: The best record the Rams can have is 8-7-1, so any team with a 9-7 record would make the playoffs as a wild card over the Rams.
The Seahawks are 9-5, so the Rams can’t catch them. The Vikings could lose out at Houston and home against Green Bay and finish 8-8. The Packers won the NFC North with Sunday’s win over Chicago, and the 8-6 Bears could lose at Arizona and at Detroit and finish 8-8.
In the NFC East, the Giants, Dallas and Washington are all 8-6. Had the Giants won Sunday, the Rams would have been eliminated because the Giants would have had nine wins and the winner of the Dallas-Washington season finale will have nine wins. The Giants could end up 8-8 if they lose at Baltimore and at home against Philadelphia. The Cowboys host New Orleans next week and Washington is at Philadelphia. If both win, the Rams are eliminated.