Rams go into bye week after surprising 4-4 start

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Rams are no longer the league’s laughingstock.

The franchise that went 1-15 last season and has picked no lower than second the past three drafts is a legitimate playoff contender heading into its bye week.

The 4-4 record may not seem like much, but it’s the Rams best at the midway point since 2006 when they also had that start.

They’re only a half-game out of first place in the NFC West.

“I think you know, quote unquote, we may not have recognizable names,” running back Steven Jackson said after Sunday’s 20-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers. “I’ve learned this season if you have guys who are willing to execute, being coached and listening to details during the week, that you can play at a high level.

“It’s very impressive for us to come together like we have.”

They can’t be satisfied, though, not after struggling a few times already. The Rams followed an impressive victory over the Seahawks with a blowout loss at Detroit, and lost in the last minute at Tampa Bay the week after holding off the Chargers.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo told the players Monday all the goals set before the season began are within their grasp, and not to look beyond the next game Nov. 14 at San Francisco.

“It’s not successful yet to me,” Spagnuolo said. “This is a good beginning. When I say good, I certainly think we all know it could have been better, and it also could have been worse.

“We’re in the thick of things. I told the team this morning that anything and everything we want to accomplish is there.”

Players will get four days off after practicing Wednesday. Spagnuolo held two practices last year, but noted many players would benefit from extra time to heal from nagging injuries.

The Rams are down to four healthy wide receivers after Danario Alexander underwent a fifth operation on his left knee Friday. Renard Foster started his first game in three years at right tackle in place of Jason Smith, who sustained a concussion in practice.

“It’s a tough game,” wide receiver Danny Amendola said. “Injuries are part of the game and it’s unfortunate, but we’ll be back. We’ve got confidence in the room that we can make plays.”

The most significant injury was to cornerback James Butler, who was to undergo an MRI for a possible high ankle sprain. Defensive end James Hall has a broken hand, but it’s expected he’ll be able to play through that. Tight end Daniel Fells was to undergo a CT scan on his back.

Spagnuolo gave the team a positive grade in every phase against the 1-6 Panthers.

Rookie Sam Bradford had his best game, going 25-for-32 for 191 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The No. 1 pick was motivated from the previous week, probably his worst game, when he failed to move the team in a scoreless second half at Tampa Bay.

The Rams’ offense isn’t flashy, but gets the job done with short passes and Steven Jackson’s running. Bradford said he probably felt the most comfortable in the pocket he has all season, even though Jackson basically played with one hand following surgery for a broken ring finger on his left hand earlier in the practice week.

“I thought our offensive line did a great job at giving me time,” Bradford said. “I think that really helped out a lot. I was able to really go through my reads, go through my progressions and find the completions.”

A much improved defense has limited the opposition. St. Louis had three sacks and intercepted Matt Moore three times.

The first interception came on the Panthers’ first play, a fleaflicker foiled by linebacker James Laurinaitis.

“Sometimes when you get one of those it stays in the quarterback’s head,” safety Oshiomoghe Atogwe said. “He held some balls when he shouldn’t have and the D-line was able to get to him.”

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