LONDON – Aside from all of the hoopla and possible distractions that go with playing a game abroad, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his team see Sunday’s matchup against the Patriots as much more than a chance to grow the game and the Rams brand internationally.
First and foremost, Fisher wants fans all over the world to see something about the organization that might not carry much cache because of its struggles in recent years.
“It’s an opportunity for us to spread the word I’d like to say that maybe the Rams are back,” Fisher said. “That was the thing that’s exciting for us. Now, of course we have to play well but the entire organization starting with Mr. Kroenke, our owner, Kevin Demoff and everybody is excited to be here.”
What Sunday’s kickoff at Wembley Stadium here in London exemplifies is a chance for the Rams to take center stage and make a lasting impression on the NFL that they are no longer a pushover on the schedule.
Considering the setup: playing in front of a huge crowd in one of the world’s most well known stadiums against a New England Patriots team that is perhaps the best known American football team in the world and its cadre of stars, the Rams certainly have a golden opportunity to make a statement.
Entering the game at 3-4 and with a bye week coming up, the Rams also have a chance to get their record back to .500 before having a week off. Getting to 4-4 with a chance to get key players like receiver
To get there, though, the Rams will have to overcome a number of challenges that will make leaving London with a victory an extremely difficult task.
First and foremost, the Rams will have to ensure they don’t become distracted by the many non-football related activities and possibilities that being in a place like London can throw at them.
Fisher made it a point to bring his team across the pond early in the week so it would have time to adjust to the time change and recover from jet lag. On the same token, it also exposed his team to possible distractions for a longer period of time though that was minimized a bit by spending the first few days at The Grove Hotel, which is on the outskirts of town and somewhat isolated.
Although his team is full of young players still maturing and growing, Fisher had the utmost confidence that the positives of an early arrival would far outweigh any possible outside distractions.
“They know it’s business trip,” Fisher said. “They know the reason we’re here. There will be some time for them and there’s some things I think they are looking forward to doing but this is a young football team that knows how to prepare, knows how to practice and knows how to study and has their priorities in order.”
On the other side, New England coach Bill Belichick took the opposite approach. Comparing the trip across the ocean to a trip to the west coast, the Patriots didn’t leave the United States until Thursday night, arriving on Friday morning.
“I think it makes a big difference,” Mikell said. “Obviously we haven’t experienced it so coming over here a couple days early, the way we felt the first couple days is the way New England might feel when they get here. They’re going to feel a little sluggish. We’ve all still got to play the game but it’s a little added advantage for us. Of course, being here a little longer there are more distractions here for us but we have done a good job of minimizing that.”
“There are different theories on it,” Laurinaitis said. “I think what it comes down to is who is going to be prepared better and just who makes more plays on Sunday. I think for us I am glad we came over early just going through the whole process and the airport travel and all that stuff, I’m glad we got that done and can put it behind us. So now that we are here, we are just focusing on football and we’ll see.”
A big part of that focus for the Rams is taking strides in the areas that have kept them out of the win column the past couple of weeks and the four times this year they have lost. That means creating more turnovers on defense and perhaps most important finishing drives with touchdowns instead of field goals.
In facing the high-octane Patriots offense led by quarterback Tom Brady, 3’s won’t get you very far. It’s something that Bradford has emphasized to his teammates all week.
“That’s our goal,” Bradford said. “Anytime we have the opportunity to score touchdowns this week, we have to. We can’t settle for field goals. That’s something that’s hurt us the past couple weeks. When you go up against an offense that’s as explosive as the Patriots, points come at a premium and we have to score as many as possible.”
Putting a finer point on it, running back
“We’re going to have a very tough challenge on Sunday,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to make sure that we help our defense out and once we get into the red zone, we’ve got to put up touchdowns. We’ve got to take advantage of chewing up the clock, as well, because their offense can put up points at any given time. Particularly on offense, we’ve got to make sure that we carry our weight.”
It’s been a long time since the Rams have found themselves in a game in which they can take center stage. Earlier this season, they made a strong impression on the nation with a nationally televised Thursday night victory against Arizona at the Edward Jones Dome.
But Sunday’s contest will increase the brightness of the spotlight and give the Rams the chance to announce to the world that not only is their future chock full of potential but that maybe, just maybe the future is already here.
For the team’s longest tenured member, that opportunity has been almost a decade in the making.
“For the last nine seasons, I’ve taken great pride in being a St. Louis Ram,” Jackson said.
“There’s been a lot of history, particularly at the running back spot, that I’ve been able to carry on. I want to continue to do so. Now, we’re here outside of U.S. borders, and we want to show our fans globally what we’re building and what we’re doing in St. Louis.”