ST. LOUIS (AP) - The bye week was productive for the St. Louis Rams. The former doormats returned to practice rested and feisty, and tied for first in the NFC West.
Not only that, the Rams (4-4) hold the tiebreaker over the Seahawks (4-4), who had been leading the division before losing 40-7 to Giants. That's a major step forward, even if it's perhaps the weakest division in the NFL.
When they returned to work Monday, players felt refreshed from four days off and excited about entering the second half with a shot.
"It's always fun playing games when they mean more," middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "We set a goal this offseason to win the NFC West, just like Arizona did, just like San Francisco did, just like Seattle did.
"It's there if we just kind of hunker down."
Coach Steve Spagnuolo recharged, too. He and wife Maria took advantage of unseasonable balmy temperatures Sunday and rode a mo-ped in Forest Park.
"Had sunglasses on," he said. "So I stayed low."
Back on the field, he didn't detect any premature satisfaction. When the Rams were 3-3 just a few weeks ago he reminded them that it was no great achievement, that it meant they were only average.
"We're aware of the stats and standings," Spagnuolo said. "We acknowledge them both good and bad, but we don't focus on them. We just move on.
"These guys know we've got a pretty tough game on Sunday."
Spagnuolo consistently refuses to dwell on the past or peer too far into the future, giving his stock response of "I'm not going there." His strategy of separating the failures no doubt helped keep players motivated during last year's 1-15 disaster, and now it's rare for a player to get caught looking too far ahead.
Safety O.J. Atogwe took that attitude to the extreme, insisting several times that he did not know the Rams were in first place.
"I don't look at the standings, that's the only time they count," Atogwe said. "During the season you can be first to last, last to first. We've still got work to do."
But he also acknowledged that this November has a different feel from the past three seasons, when the Rams were a combined 6-42 and picked second, second and first in the draft.
"You know you're competing, you're aware of what's going around you," Atogwe said. "Everything you set out at the beginning of the year is still ahead of you to attain, and that's a good feeling."
Wide receiver Danny Amendola went home to Dallas during the bye to visit family and friends, and relaxed - unless he was watching games on Sunday.
"I honestly hated watching football on Sunday," Amendola said. "It's nice resting but I'm ready to be back."
Laurinaitis was held out Monday to allow more time to heal from a minor knee injury, but said he'd be back Wednesday.
"It's fine," Laurinaitis said. "Just a little rest."