ST. LOUIS (AP) -- That 1-15 record must be a misprint.
For a franchise that appears to have hit rock bottom after its third horrible year in a row (six wins total), St. Louis Rams players, coaches and front office personnel seem pretty optimistic that good times are not that far away.
"I know this is crazy, but we feel like we have a pretty good foundation in certain areas," general manager Billy Devaney said. "No kidding there's places we have to upgrade significantly, but there's not nearly as many places as this time last year."
While gathering belongings from his locker before leaving for the offseason, cornerback Ron Bartell couldn't stifle a chuckle when a reporter asked how far away the Rams were from playoff contention. Just a few seconds later, however, he noted the Rams could become the latest team to accomplish a quick turnaround.
Even if they were last in the league in scoring with one touchdown or fewer in 13 games. Or 29th overall in total offense and defense. Or that they have a 13-game home losing streak and few marquee names beyond Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson. Even if they bowed out with a puny 109 yards in total offense per game.
"It's a league of parity," Bartell said. "One year you can be 1-15 like the Dolphins were (in 2007) and then you can turn around and be 10-6.
"It's just a few pieces here and there and guys stepping up their level of play, myself included. The sky's the limit when that happens."
Nose tackle Clifton Ryan echoed those thoughts while noting players needed to be tougher and more determined. The 49ers scored three touchdowns in the final 7 1/2 minutes to pull away from a 7-6 lead in the Rams' finale, and that happened a lot to St. Louis.
"That's kind of been our M.O. through the season, we'll play for 36 minutes, 40 minutes, 45 minutes, 50 minutes and just collapse," Ryan said. "Once we learn, we'll win those games."
The Rams are well positioned to make improvements after jettisoning veterans and absorbing bad contracts last season, especially if there's a salary cap and even if it's uncapped.
"You have to plan for both and we've done that," Devaney said. "It doesn't complicate things on our end, we'll be ready for either scenario."
Rookie coach Steve Spagnuolo thought winning at least some of the close ones next season will be a combination of player maturity and player upgrades. It was a hodgepodge roster at the finish with unheralded rookies like quarterback Keith Null and starting wide receivers who weren't around in training camp.
Except for Nov. 1, when the Rams ended a 17-game losing streak by beating Detroit, they never made those one or two key plays that mean the difference.
"I say this half-kiddingly, but I think they all even out in the end in this league," Spagnuolo said. "So if we had a bad break this year, I'm banking on a good one next year.
"I fully believe with the pains we went through this year, we'll be stronger for it."
Playing for a team that earned the No. 1 pick was a culture shock for middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who lost only eight games in four seasons at Ohio State. Laurinaitis didn't despair, became only the second rookie to lead the team in tackles with 146 stops, and was voted the Rams' rookie of the year.
"I think I've built up a lot of resiliency, how to respond to losses and do it in a professional manner," Laurinaitis said. "It's very easy to play 100 percent when you're winning, things are rolling and the crowd's into it.
"When you're down and things get out of control, that's when it's easy to pack it in. I never did that."
Week after week, Spagnuolo noted that players remained upbeat. There were 13 players on injured reserve at the end of the season and four others who might as well have been on IR, but the team always did its best to put a positive spin on a dire season.
"Through all the adversity we went through, unless I'm missing something, there wasn't anybody jumping ship, pointing fingers, going off the deep end," Spagnuolo said. "I'm not that naive to think there aren't some things, but I just trust and hope that whatever little things might be they don't fester, guys get them out in the open and we address it."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)