Derek Stanley and I weren’t 10 minutes into Sunday’s post-game show before a caller had labeled us, the Rams, and the Raiders as “losers.”
This was following a 52-0 Rams’ victory, no less.
Perception isn’t reality as much as our perception is our reality. Take that angry caller on Sunday: He was upset that Derek and I were giving the 5-7 Rams too much credit for beating the dumpster fire that is the Oakland Raiders. It didn’t matter that Tre Mason had tied the record for the second longest rush in Rams history by breaking off an 89-yard score, or that Stedman Bailey notched 100 receiving yards on five catches in the first quarter alone.
It didn’t matter that Gregg Williams’ defense pitched a shutout while forcing five turnovers and sacking Oakland quarterbacks a total of six times. It didn’t matter that the Rams’ 52-point margin of victory was the second highest margin in franchise history, or that the team’s 38 points in the first half is now tied for the second-most in franchise history.
A historic day for the Rams, reduced to, “Well, it was only the Raiders.”
The caller’s perception was that despite the 52-0 romp, the Rams, Raiders, and apparently Derek and I, are still losers. This was going to be his reality had the Rams won on a last-second field goal or had lost outright.
In a cynical way, though, the caller did foster a telling thought: What did the victory actually mean for the Rams? After all, as impressive as the win was, they’re still only 5-7 on the season. They’re not going to the playoffs and they’re still ticketed for a last-place finish in the NFC West, so what lessons can be gleaned from the victory?
In the present, it means that these games in 2014 still hold importance to the team. That’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially considering the Rams aren’t going to the playoffs. The team hasn’t checked out, nobody has quit on Jeff Fisher, and the players are still plenty motivated despite not being in playoff contention. All of this is important, even if it can’t be measured.
The game also highlighted the continued ascension of the defense under Williams. In their last five games, the Rams have forced 13 turnovers, have racked up 22 sacks and have held opponents to 3.39 yards per carry. The return of Chris Long allowed us a taste of how much havoc the combination of Long, Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers can create. The secondary continues to have its fair share of breakdowns but it’s hard not to be excited about the futures of T.J. McDonald and E.J. Gaines as well.
The same can be said for Mason and Bailey, who combined for 264 of the offense’s 348 yards against the Raiders. In less than a month, Mason has shown more patience, vision and decisiveness than at any point during OTAs, training camp and preseason. Bailey continues to prove that he’s the best route runner out of any receiver on the team and possesses the most reliable hands as well. There’s no reason for these two players not to be featured in upcoming game plans in the month of December. There’s no reason that the Rams can’t exploit future opponents’ weaknesses just like they did on Sunday when they attacked the perimeter of an aging Oakland defense.
That leads us into this team’s future: Can Fisher get his coaching staff and players to be consistent on a weekly basis? People have talked about the Rams finishing at least 8-8 but the fact remains that this team hasn’t won back-to-back games all year. They’ve proven that they’re significantly better than the Raiders. They’ve proven that they’re creative and talented enough to upset Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
They’ve proven that they’re still a pain in the side of the Seahawks and 49ers and they’ve started to prove the notion that they’re a legitimate quarterback away from taking that proverbial next step.
But can this team change the perception that no matter how impressive they look from time to time, the reality is that this is still a franchise that will ultimately fall short of expectations?
A 52-0 victory in the NFL will always be impressive, no matter the opponent. For the Rams, though, a 52-0 victory becomes even more impressive, if not more important, when it’s followed by a strong finish to a season marred by adversity and inconsistency.
My perception is that the Rams are good enough to finish with a .500 record, despite not having Bradford under center all year. Time will tell if that’s only my perception and thus, just my reality.