ST. LOUIS (AP) - Getting whipped by the Atlanta Falcons and facing a tough stretch has not diminished Steve Spagnuolo's optimistic outlook. Being a member of the weakest division in the NFL can have that effect.
At 4-6, the St. Louis Rams are only a game out of first place, and everyone else in the NFC West also lost Sunday. So even though their four-game home winning streak is history and they're 0-3 on the road and set to be the visiting team the next three weeks, nothing changes.
"We're still in the thick of it, and that's the way we're going to look at it," Spagnuolo said Monday. "We're going to focus on the prize we set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year, the NFC West."
Spagnuolo believes the Rams, who won only one game last season, are close to being able to play with any team. Though they lost 34-17 on Sunday, the Rams had the Falcons sweating before a botched shovel pass from the Atlanta 2 with 3:24 to go snuffed a drive that could have made it a 2-point game.
So close that the loss aggravated Spagnuolo to the point he didn't care to watch the Eagles and Giants, his two NFL coaching stops before St. Louis.
"I'll normally throw on whatever the Sunday night game is," Spagnuolo said. "I was done."
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui lined up in the backfield and was the intended receiver on the shovel pass, but bumped into guard Adam Goldberg, who had gotten pushed back by the Falcons' rush. The ball went straight to safety William Moore and the Falcons pulled away, increasing their NFC-best record to 8-2.
"It's two points, the dome would have been going nuts, the guys would have been energized. Who knows?" Spagnuolo said. "That's the NFL."
Watching from the sideline, Spagnuolo was certain the call was golden and the Falcons would concentrate on stopping Steven Jackson, enabling Hoomanawanui to waltz into the end zone. Instead, it ended Sam Bradford's NFL rookierecord run of 169 consecutive passes without an interception.
"I'm standing there saying,"We've got a touchdown here,'" the coach said. "It's unfortunate the way that happened."
Even after the interception, Spagnuolo hadn't given up hope. The Rams got the ball back with 2:59 left at their own 40 and with one timeout, but after a 5-yard completion on first down, Bradford threw three straight incompletions.
Two plays later, Michael Turner ended any suspense with a 39-yard touchdown run.
The loss also could have been much more lopsided too, given Atlanta had the ball for nearly 36 minutes, if the defense hadn't finally stiffened and forced three chip-shot field goals.
The Falcons ran 70 plays, the Rams only 54, which minimized Jackson's impact. Jackson had 61 yards rushing and receiving, becoming the fourth Rams player to top 10,000 yards from scrimmage, but had only 14 touches. The first nine games, Jackson averaged about 24 touches.
"I like to be in the flow of the game and touch the ball on each and every drive," Jackson said. "When they keep you on the sideline for so long, it makes it hard to get into a rhythm."
All they can do now is get back to work.
"We have six games left and that's a long time," said middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who had 16 tackles. "Nobody's going to feel bad for you in this league, nobody's going to come up to us this week and say, "Gosh, these guys, you know, have lost some tough battles and we feel bad for them.'
"We've got to be ready to go."
The Rams are 0-3 on the road and won't play their next home game until Dec. 19. Before then they'll be at Denver, Arizona and New Orleans.