Waking up this morning, there are multiple feelings surrounding game day. This afternoon, the St. Louis Rams will play their final game of the 2012 season, as they head to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. It’s bittersweet.
On one hand, it's an opportunity to avoid Deja Vu from the 2010 season finale, when the Rams fell short of making the playoffs and, contrarily, the 16-6 victory jettisoned the Seahawks into the postseason. A lackluster performance by the Rams also meant a missed opportunity to finish at .500; something the team hadn’t [and hasn’t] done since 2006. Call it an opportunity for payback.
That brings us to present day. The Rams and Seahawks will kick off this afternoon at 4:25PM EST. In 2010, it was a meeting of two mediocre teams in a very under-appreciated division. Today, the NFC West is tied for second most wins amongst all divisions in the NFL, with 32 total wins. The Rams find themselves in a position similar to 2010, boasting a 7-7-1 record, with an opportunity to finish the season with a winning record. The Seahawks come into the season finale boasting the most potent offense in the NFL over the past three weeks, having scored 150 points throughout that span. The matchup, for both teams, means something a little different though.
For the Rams, whose season is over regardless of the outcome, it’s a statement game. It’s an opportunity to end the season on a high note. It’s a chance to send the fans into the offseason with a smile on their faces, and a promising outlook for 2013.
And though the Seahawks are in the playoffs despite the outcome, this game does have implications on their Super Bowl aspirations. A home win against the Rams, and a 49ers loss to the Cardinals, and the Seahawks clinch 3rd place in the NFC. This guarantees them a home game during the postseason, and an opportunity to leverage their ‘12th man’ and make a deep run.
The game means different things to these teams, but neither will be lying down because of the situation in which they currently find themselves. As Rams fans, though, not being able to see the team play another meaningful game until next September, there are expectations. How will the final game of 2012 be remembered?
One For The History Books
Rams running back - Steven Jackson - is a mere 30 yards away from finishing off his eighth straight season of eclipsing 1,000 yards rushing
. In doing so, he’ll join the company of folks like Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas,Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith, and LaDainian Tomlinson. For Jackson, whose motor ceases to run on full blast, this feat should come relatively early in the game. For Rams fans, the joy of seeing Jackson join the aforementioned company will be shared with it’s mainstay. Steven Jackson has been the definition of hard-work and dedication to this program, since being drafted in 2004. The Rams made the playoffs that year, but have yet to return. His work ethic has never wavered.
There has been some speculation over the past week that Jackson may not return to St. Louis in 2013. Though nothing is set in stone in regards to his return, the fact that he was given the option to walk from the final year of his contract is concrete. With that said, it’s possible that Sunday’s game might be Steven’s last opportunity to do something that he has not for the duration of his career: rush for 100 yards against the Seattle Seahawks.
As touched on earlier, this game is an opportunity for the Rams to finish with a .500 record since 2006, or winning record since 2003. The past six season’s have not been pretty for the organization, littered with player and coaching turnover, and with rare glimpses of legitimacy. Outside of the 2010 season, where rookie Sam Bradford nearly lead his team to the postseason, this team - under a new regime - has an opportunity to set the record straight.
And albeit with an oddly placed third column, a win for the Rams means a season where they did not lose to an NFC West opponent. The 4-0-1 record against divisional opponents is the only winning record in the West. Only the Patriots, Texans, Broncos, and Packers have been able to do the same to this point. That’s not bad company to be in.
On the flip-side of the coin lies opportunity for the Seahawks to make some of their own. With a win today, the Seahawks will have remained undefeated at CenturyLink Field for the duration of 2012. In doing so, the Seahawks will have accomplished this feat for the first time since 2005 - and only the third time in franchise history [36 years].
The success in Seattle is truly a team effort. Their defense is overwhelming. Their running back - Marshawn Lynch - has proven to be a consistent 1000-yard rusher since joining the team and typically is in conversation as one of the league’s best. Lynch currently ranks 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards, only trailing Adrian Peterson. The pleasant surprise of the season for the Seahawks, though, has been the play of rookie QB Russell Wilson.
Wilson, who deserves to have his name mentioned along with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, can make a bit of his own history on Sunday. By completing two more touchdown passes, Wilson will pass Peyton Manning for the most TD’s thrown by a rookie QB (26). Finishing this game, and season, will certainly keep Russell Wilson’s name in Rookie of the Year contention.
A Day to Remember
Finishing the season with a win would be ever-so gratifying for Rams fans. Consider this a playoff game. What more could one ask for in a season finale? It’s not the Dolphins or Jets, and it’s not the Viking or Buccaneers. This is a chance to head into the offseason with a statement win over hated rival, Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks might be the hottest team in football right now. But the Rams have heard that before. They heard it for an entire week prior to the kickoff of Week 5. The Rams - and the world it seemed - were lead to believe that the Cardinals were world-beaters. If you saw the game, then you know that you can never count these Rams out of the game, regardless of the circumstances.
With that win, the Rams hosted the Seahawks the very next week. In Russell Wilson’s only 3 INT, 0 TD performance of his rookie campaign, the Rams were able to secure their second consecutive win against an NFC West opponent, 19-13. The Rams continue to beat the odds.
A Day to Forget
A loss makes a return to work on Monday a difficult one. You’ll begrudgingly crawl out of bed, with your head hung low. Especially if the Rams are only able to acquire points via the leg of Greg Zuerlein. I think it’s safe to assume that six points couldn’t cut it in 2010, and it’s not going to prove successful in 2012.
To be fair, if Legatron is able to outscore the Seahawks, I suppose the result wouldn’t be so bad. Whether or not that comes to fruition remains to be seen. He did, in fact, kick four FG’s against the Seahawks in Week 5, one of which was good from 60.
If the Rams become the fourth consecutive team to give up between 42-58 points, it’ll prove difficult to find many silver linings in the last Rams game that you’ll see in nine months. In all likelihood, your focus would then turn to one of two things…
Free Agency and Mock Draft Mania
It’s oftentimes difficult for fans - mankind - not to succumb to recency effect. Some players, due to being recently drafted, will only bring about a certain amount of criticism if they don’t perform today. There are players, however, who have drawn criticism for the entirety of this season…and beyond.
Brandon Gibson has come on strong at the end of the season. He’s made clutch catches that have kept games alive, and some that have secured the victory. BUT, would a critical drop in the 4th quarter of today’s game immediately plunge him into free agency by armchair GM’s? If the last memory you had of a receiver was dropping a pass that would’ve secured the lead in a game of this magnitude, you’ve got all offseason to find his replacement.
If Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense are able to dominate the Rams like they’ve done their opponents for the past three weeks, will you be the first one to post a mock draft for Eric Reid or Kenny Vaccaro?
Does a loss today, as a result of a bland offensive performance, fall directly on the shoulders of Sam Bradford? It could. In all likelihood it would. And not because it’s right. It’ll happen because it’s easy to point blame at the QB. It’s easy to point out his contract, and it’s even easier to say that the Rams would be in the playoffs had they drafted RG3. Yeah…all that would start up again.
The Final Snap
One thing is for certain, and that’s that after 60 minutes of regulation football, the St. Louis Rams won’t be playing regulation football until next September. How you enjoy the rest of your evening, your year, and your offseason is heavily incumbent upon which Rams team shows up today.
If the team that’s been owning it’s NFC West opponents rolls into Seattle, and is able to quiet the 12th man, fans can rejoice in all of the great steps forward this program has taken in such a short time. It would be difficult not to be optimistic for 2013 knowing that the Rams were an 8-win team this season. Steven Jackson would have made history, and the Rams wouldn’t have lost to the Cardinals, 49ers, or Seahawks. Not once.
There are many things to find solace in throughout the first 16 Weeks of 2012. The result of today’s matchup against the Seahawks will indeed make a statement. The question, you should ask yourself, is whether or not today’s game is going to define the season, and your thoughts about the Rams and their future. There is a bigger picture. Will you be able to see it, regardless of the outcome?