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Challenging early schedule wounds Rams

- Associated Press - Monday, September 26, 2011

ST. LOUIS (AP) - This was supposed to be the year the St. Louis Rams emerged as a legitimate playoff contender. Not only are they winless, they've been pushovers.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo said the crosstown Cardinals' late-season charge for the NL wild card could serve as an inspiration for a team that he believes has not lost faith.

Spagnuolo, who had a chat with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa on Sunday morning, said if the baseball team can come from 10 1/2 games back of Atlanta to just one game in one month, there's certainly plenty of time left for the Rams.

"They scratched, clawed, battled, fought injuries, some tough losses, and yet here they are, with everything in front and a chance to do what they wanted to do at the beginning of the season," Spagnuolo said Monday. "I do think there's a lesson for our team there."

The Rams (0-3) escaped Sunday's 37-7 whipping against the Baltimore Ravens with no serious injury issues, giving Steven Jackson a light load in hopes he'll be closer to 100 percent this week against the Washington Redskins. It's just their pride that's hurting.

"It's not necessarily time to panic, but we definitely need to get better quickly," safety Quintin Mikell said. "And that's everybody."

Most surprising has been the porous defense. That's Spagnuolo's calling card.

The Baltimore Ravens put up a franchise-record 553 yards in Sunday's 37-7 victory. The Ravens repeatedly burned a unit geared to stop running back Ray Rice, and didn't even do that. Rice finished with 162 yards rushing and receiving.

Given a do-over, Spagnuolo didn't think he'd change the approach on defense. The Ravens appeared thin at wide receiver with Lee Evans out and Joe Flacco didn't scare anybody.

"I think the quarterback, when it was all said and done, was the guy that beat us," Spagnuolo said. "Flacco put all those balls right where they had to be."

Spagnuolo said he'd stick with cornerback Justin King, who was victimized on all three of rookie Torrey Smith's touchdown catches totaling 141 yards in the first quarter. Safety Darian Stewart also was at fault on one of the TDs.

"I'll go to battle with Justin King," Spagnuolo said.

The offense has moved the ball well between the 20s, and Bradford had a career-best 331 yards passing last week against the Giants. But they've scored three touchdowns, and given up three touchdowns on turnovers.

Bradford has also taken a pounding, getting sacked 11 times behind iffy protection from a well-paid line. Tackle Jason Smith, the second overall pick of the 2010 draft, was benched in the second half Sunday after a couple of penalties.

A challenging early schedule that started with the Eagles and Giants is threatening to bury the Rams, who've been outscored 96-36 and have lost six of seven going back to the end of last season.

"It's disappointing, but we've been through a lot of low times," defensive end Chris Long said. "We've got some guys that are going to be resilient, because we've been in bad situations before."

Spagnuolo has been schooled by three close friends, coaches Andy Reid, Tom Coughlin and John Harbaugh.

Harbaugh didn't exactly sit on the lead, either. He challenged a play when Cadillac Williams lost the ball at the end of a 2-yard carry with just under four minutes remaining, and Flacco threw a deep pass just after the two-minute warning that drew a pass interference call on the Rams' Bradley Fletcher.

When Spagnuolo got home Sunday night, he told his wife Maria, "We're not ever talking to them again."

He backed off Monday.

"Let me tell you something: John Harbaugh's a competitor now," Spagnuolo said. "So I know that in him. I've got no problem with it. I did feel one way yesterday, but I calmed down and looked at it."

The most serious injury was a thumb injury sustained by defensive tackle Darell Scott, who was consulting a specialist. Bradford sprained his right big toe but looked fine in the locker room Monday.

Wide receiver Danny Amendola, out two games with a dislocated left elbow, was going to try a different brace in hopes of returning.

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