On a normal Sunday night following a Rams home game, head coach Steve Spagnuolo heads back to his house to relax and unwind with his wife, Maria.
More often than not, the rest of the evening includes watching a good portion of whatever that week’s Sunday night game is.
But last night, after his team dropped a 34-17 decision to Atlanta that was more closely contested than the final score would indicate, Spagnuolo was in no mood to watch anymore pigskin.
Considering which teams were playing, it was even more of a surprise.
“I’ll be honest with you now, I went home last night and didn’t watch one snap of football,” Spagnuolo said. “And the Giants and Eagles were playing. So I was done with football for a day. I would normally throw on whatever the Sunday night game is. I was done. ”
In fact, Spagnuolo opted to shut himself off from the football world entirely. Without watching on television and since he doesn’t read the newspaper or the internet, Spagnuolo says he isn’t aware of all that happened around the league on Sunday.
All he wants and needs to know is whether his team is still able to achieve what it set out to achieve in 2010.
“I don’t read the papers so I don’t pick it up,” Spagnuolo said. “I don’t know what the standings look like. I know we’re in the thick of it though. Nobody has told me we can’t win.”
So what was it about Sunday’s loss to the 8-2, NFC front running Falcons in particular that left Spagnuolo wanting nothing to do with the game that is his passion?
“Probably because I think this team has reached a point where we are capable of beating those teams,” Spagnuolo said. “I feel that way. I know they do too. So the better you become, the more in the thick of it you get, the higher the aspirations, that’s the more upset I get when we don’t win.”
Despite the loss, the Rams are indeed still in the thick of it and every one of their aspirations is still in play.
The first team goal set at the beginning of each season is to win the NFC West Division, logic being that you win the division you’re in the playoffs and then any of the really big goals all become possibilities.
While the Rams’ loss on Sunday dropped them to 4-6, division foes Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco all lost as well. Entering the game, the Rams were a game behind the Seahawks in the division. After the game, they were in the exact same spot.
Nothing gained, nothing lost.
“We’re still in the thick of it,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s the way we are going to look at it. We are not going to focus on the two S words – standings and statistics. We’re going to focus on the prize we set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year, the NFC West, that is still there. Until they tell us we can’t get it that’s going to be the main focus and the first step toward getting that is playing Denver.”
Staying at or near the top of the division standings doesn’t figure to get any easier this week with that aforementioned trip to play the Broncos.
Starting this week, the Rams begin a stretch of three consecutive games on the road, a tall order for a team that has yet to get a victory away from the Edward Jones Dome.
That game is followed by trips to face the Cardinals in Arizona and the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in New Orleans.
While Spagnuolo believes his team is good enough now to compete with top level competition such as Atlanta and New Orleans, he also knows that in order to come through that brutal stretch still in the mix, there are improvements that need to be made.
“There are areas that we have to get (better),” Spagnuolo said. “I spoke with the team this morning about it. But I certainly feel like we are capable of winning that kind of particular game and beating those, that’s a good football team. I think we are capable of doing that but it won’t happen if A, B and C doesn’t get straightened out.”
Offensively, Spagnuolo was disappointed with his team’s penchant for costly penalties and failure to convert on third downs, particularly on third and short, an area its excelled this season.
“We have a very tough three game stretch on the road coming up, starting off with Denver,” running back
Defensively, Spagnuolo would like to see his team continue to get stops in the red zone, something it did well against the Falcons but not consistently enough for his liking and do a better job of getting off the field on third down.
And on special teams, Spagnuolo put emphasis on finding a way to improve both in kickoff coverage and in the return game.
The Rams averaged just 18.1 yards per kick return and allowed an average of 30 yards per return against Atlanta.
Those types of breakdowns can swing field position and ultimately, the score.
Despite those miscues, the Rams still found themselves within an eyelash of having the NFC’s hottest team on the ropes on Sunday. A late shovel pass attempt from Bradford to tight end
“The dome would have been going nuts; the guys would have been energized…who knows (what would have happened)?” Spagnuolo said.
In the end, the Rams came up a few yards short of getting to see what would have happened but they also came away with the knowledge that they are still able to accomplish all that they’ve set out to accomplish.
Judging by how far they’ve come this year and the mentality they’ve maintained on a weekly basis, cornerback
“It’s the hand we’re dealt,” Bartell said. “We put ourselves in this situation. But one good thing about this team, I don’t think we let things like this faze us. We’ve been in some close games this year. We’ve just got to find ways to pull them out. We were at the 2-yard line going in for a score. We’ve got to find a way to win this game. Defensively, we’ve got to find a way to get a stop. We have good leaders in this locker room, a good coaching staff, so we’ll make corrections and we’ll move on.”