ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Rams are hopeful, hopeful that next year they won’t be watching the NFL playoffs from the comfort of their couches.
For the 11th straight season, Rams players packed up their belongings the day after their final regular season game and headed home, some unsure if they’ll even return to Rams Park next season. And rightfully so, the 2014 season was ugly.
The Rams lost their starting quarterback in the preseason. They lost Jake Long and Brian Quick in the same week. Rumors flew that they were moving back to Los Angeles. They lost a 21-point lead to the Dallas Cowboys and fell 34-31 in Week 3. Embarrassed by the Chiefs 34-7 in Week 8. A fumble on the goal line to lose to San Diego 27-24. A touchdown-less 12-6 loss to a beatable Arizona. And then the offense let the defense down in the final week, falling to the Seahawks 20-6.
There are a few highlights on the season – the manhandling of the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins, winning those games 52-0 and 24-0 respectively. Then beating both the Denver Broncos and Seahawks at home.
“It’s frustrating for the fans to go through it and frustrating for us to live it out,” said defensive end Chris Long, “What I say today doesn’t change anything. Next year we want to be preparing for a playoff opponent. I think that’s the realistic expectation this team has. To say we’re close is very realistic. It’s not what people want to hear and we understand that. Close doesn’t count, but we’re almost there.”
It’s hard to ask a fan base to support being close. A fan base that definitively remembers the Greatest Show on Turf as fondly as they remember David Freese’s Game 6 home run and Ozzie’s wizard ways in 1985. However, the last time the Rams played in the postseason, Marc Bulger was the quarterback, Jeff Wilkins was kicking and Jason Sehorn was playing safety.
Have we seen the last of Shaun Hill?
“We beat some great teams this year,” quarterback Shaun Hill said, “We hung tough with some great teams this year. There were times you could see the growth. I feel like we have a really talented team and that talent’s getting more matured. I think there’s a lot of things to be excited about for 2015.”
It’s doubtful that Hill, 34, will return to St. Louis, even with the lack of good options for the Rams at QB. The only possibility he returns is as a back-up option.
“I haven’t really thought about it much,” Hill responded when asked about returned to the Rams, “I hope that something can work out. I’ve been a free agent a few times.”
Aaron Donald’s stock as defensive rookie of the year
Aaron Donald is headed to Arizona for his first Pro-Bowl selection and the honor may be just the first of the season for the Rams defensive tackle. Donald, 23, finished the season with 9.0 sacks (trailing only Robert Quinn for the team lead) and 47 combined tackles, tops on the defensive line.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for that kid,” Long said, “He’s just been a pro since he got here. He’s a good locker room dude. I admire the way he plays the game, the way he brings intensity and physicality.”
“That’s a special guy,” Kendall Langford added, “He works hard. He puts the time into the film room.”