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Rams' stunning upset could signal turnaround

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Oct. 31, 2011 @ 3:06 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Has there ever been a more spirited victory than the Rams' eye-popping 31-21 upset of the Saints in Week Eight at the Edward Jones Dome? With members of the World Series-champion Cardinals cheering them on, the Rams finally registered their first victory of the season with a rousing performance on every level.

On offense, workhorse RB Steven Jackson has seldom been better, romping for a season-high 159 yards on 25 carries and a pair of TDs.

On defense, DE Chris Long (three of the team's six sacks) and MLB James Laurinaitis (team-leading 10 tackles, a sack and two pass breakups) spearheaded a heroic effort, limiting a Saints offense that had scored 62 points and gained 557 yards the previous week to a mere 283 yards.

On special teams, first-round draft pick Robert Quinn blocked a second-quarter punt to set up the Rams' first TD, and Donnie Jones landed three of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line while limiting the dangerous Darren Sproles to only 19 yards on three punt returns.

On paper, the 2011 Rams still shape up as a major disappointment, sharing the NFC West basement with the Cardinals at 1-6 while putting head coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney squarely on the hot seat. But with their schedule appearing much more manageable in the last nine games, a return to some semblance of respectability suddenly doesn't seem like all that much of a stretch after arguably the biggest upset in the season's first eight weeks.

The PFW Spin

For starters, a careful look at the Rams' starting QB situation seems in order. Certainly before their badly needed win over the Saints, the Rams couldn't have been blamed for feeling a real sense of urgency to get Sam Bradford, who has missed the last two games with a nagging high ankle sprain, back under center as soon as possible. But while the temptation still might be there, it says here the Rams would be best-served sticking with A.J. Feeley until there's absolutely no question that Bradford is back to being 100 percent healthy. Normally, a high ankle sprain takes at least a month from which to recover sufficiently. Exercising extreme caution with the face of the franchise seems like a very good idea for a player who had such well-documented durability issues before surprisingly making it through his rookie campaign unscathed.

As the victory over the Saints showed, Feeley would appear to have what it takes to be a winning QB, especially with what appear to be very winnable games on the horizon (at Arizona, at Cleveland, Seattle at home and Arizona at home in the next month).

"A.J. has been a leader and I think he's shown why we brought him here," said Jackson, whose emotional pregame speech gave his teammates an extra boost against the Saints. "He knows his role, he knows how to manage a game, and he puts us in positions where if we have a play at the line of scrimmage and the defense shows something that's not going to be favorable, he gets us out of tough situations, and he's done that the last two weeks. 

"If he has to keep going, we all believe in him, as a team, that he can continue to lead us in a way until Sam gets back. By no means will it cause any controversy. We all know Sam's the guy — we can't wait until he gets back — but (A.J.'s) done a great job."

One other factor worth spinning is the additional boost the Rams received from their baseball brethren, hot on the heels of a scintillating seven-game World Series victory over the Texas Rangers highlighted by a Game Six win that will go down in the annals as one of the greatest Major League Baseball games ever.

Consider Long's comments when asked if all those Cardinals in attendance at Sunday's game provided extra motivation.

"I thought about it, but I didn't want to put the cart before the horse, then it hit me," Long said. "We had (pitcher) Chris Carpenter in the building, I saw (catcher) (Yadier) Molina, all those guys, and it's a great thing for our community.

"I'm not one for celebrations, but it was fun."

It's definitely a far cry from what team insiders tell us was one of the most shell-shocked locker rooms imaginable following the Rams' loss to the Cowboys the previous week, when they made raw Cowboys rookie RB DeMarco Murray look like a combination of Walter Payton and Adrian Peterson.

The Rams remain a shell of what most league observers expected them to be this season, considering the dramatic improvement they made last season. But after an amazing upset victory, things are looking up — and not a moment too soon.

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