You could file this one under “worst-case scenario”. When the Rams departed St Louis for London last Monday they did so with a sense of great optimism – spirits only slightly dented by the previous day’s home defeat to Green Bay. Despite that loss, there was a real belief that they could stand toe-to-toe with the Patriots in London – just as they had with almost every other opponent so far this season.
Instead they were humiliated. Before an international audience they were not just beaten but obliterated by New England, losing 45-7. So one-sided was the game that the Patriots were able to withdraw starting quarterback Tom Brady and replace him with understudy Ryan Mallett before the halfway point of the final quarter. Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan would later compare it to a battle between a bug and a windshield.
As Jim Thomas noted in the St Louis Post-Dispatch, even the result did not tell the full story. “Adding insult to injury, [the Patriots] topped 350 yards of offense for the 17th consecutive game,” he wrote. “Breaking a record they had shared with the Greatest Show on Turf - more precisely, the 2001 Rams team they defeated in Super Bowl XXXVI.”
But if the game itself was a disaster, then that is not to say that the same necessarily goes for the trip to London as a whole. It would have been easy for the Rams head coach Jeff Fisher to blame circumstances for his team’s defeat – citing jet lag or some other logistical complaint. Instead, upon returning to St Louis, he argued the exact opposite.
“The trip was a successful trip with the exception of three hours,” he said. “We like to think that we’ll be able to look back on this experience. It wasn’t like we came to work and went home. Guys spent a lot of time together, had a lot of fun together, but we were serious when we needed to be serious. We had three outstanding days of practice. None of us saw that coming.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft had struck a similar note during a visit to London over the summer. Asked how Bill Belichick felt about trans-Atlantic midseason trips, he replied: “Bill would prefer to have every game, home and away, played in Foxborough at 1pm on a Sunday. But I think he saw the last time when we came here that there was a great bonding went on. Travelling together and having to spend time together in a different culture forced everyone to come together a bit more."
How much of a tangible difference such bonding can make for the Rams remains to be seen, but for a team boasting the youngest roster in the league, it is hard to see how it would hurt. Although Fisher has been clear in stating that he expects this team to win now, not just at some undefined point down the line, he has nevertheless helped to put together a core group of players that the Rams hope to keep together for years to come.
In the immediate term, those players can look forward to a few days apart from one another. Having returned home on schedule with no significant disruption from Hurricane Sandy, the players practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday, but can now look forward to four consecutive days off – a bye week stipulation written into the new collective bargaining agreement between players and owners last year. Their next opponent will be the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on 11 November.
The question many fans are asking is whether Steven Jackson will still be a Ram by the time that game rolls around. Ahead of the trade deadline – initially set for this Tuesday but moved back to Thursday in order to accommodate teams who might have been disrupted by Hurricane Sandy – there have been reports that St Louis might look to deal their starting running back for further draft picks.
Fisher sought to put an end to such speculation on Tuesday, stating flatly that: “The Steven Jackson rumours are rumours. He’s our running back. We’re not calling around nor are we getting calls, for that matter. So, I’ll put that to rest.”
In reality, though, such words did nothing of the sort. As much as Fisher may have been telling the truth about his team’s actions to date, it is impossible to believe that the Rams would not at least hear what a potential suitor had to say if one came calling.
The team has, after all, already renegotiated the player’s contract so that either party can void it at the end of this season. At 29 years old, Jackson is beginning to show signs of slowing down and so far this season is posting a career-worst average of 3.7 yards per carry. He is splitting carries with one rookie, Daryl Richardson, and another, Isaiah Pead, is waiting in the wings.
That is not to say that there is no more role for Jackson, who has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the last seven seasons, in St Louis. He and Richardson make an effective tandem, Jackson offering power and Richardson greater explosiveness. But if the right offer came along they would surely take it. From a business stand-point, there is also Jackson’s $7m per year salary to consider.
On the other hand, it is true that there are few obvious candidates to pitch such a trade. Given Jackson’s age and contract situation, it would likely have to be a team seeking an immediate upgrade with a view to a playoff run this year.
But the talk show hosts and columnists of St Louis will carry on discussing it nevertheless until that deadline has passed. Better that, than go back over Sunday’s game.
In the news …
A few more stories about the Rams this week that readers might want to check out:
ESPN radio host Bernie Miklasz looks at why the Rams could trade Steven Jackson in his column for the St Louis Post-Dispatch – including an interesting breakdown of running backs’ declining performances after the age of 30 …
No five-minute interview this week on account of the bye. Normal service to be resumed next week!