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“It’s aggravating because we’re preparing hard, practicing hard, playing hard,” Rivers said. “In the games, we’re fighting like crazy to win. There are no excuses, though. We just have to do it.”

That they haven’t after the fastest start in Norv Turner’s regime doesn’t bode well for the coaching staff.

Tampa Bay is one of the league’s youngest rosters, and with that comes fragility. Only St. Louis among NFC teams is worse in the red zone on offense, and has been significantly outscored in the first half (152-77) of games. What looked like a breakthrough 2010 for QB Josh Freeman, RB LaGarrette Blount and WR Mike Williams has not developed into a playoff-bound 2011.

Plus, the Bucs’ defense has yielded more than 300 yards more than the offense has gained on the ground.

Yet coach Raheem Morris still is talking playoffs; Tampa needs to win out to match its 10-6 mark of last year.

“I said early on our goal is to win the division,” Morris said. We came out hot (3-1 and 4-2), hit a little sinkhole right here, and now it’s time to come running out of that thing.”

The Rams have been running on empty from the outset, disappointing because of the improvement they showed last year. Injuries have devastated them everywhere, and they have the league’s worst run defense.

So while San Francisco surged under new coach Jim Harbaugh, St. Louis slid, even with more modest expectations.

But even those ambitions can’t be reached when there are so many missing ingredients.


AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this story.