In April, the Dolphins and Rams both went Long with the first two picks of the draft. Since that time these two teams have very little in common.
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- In April, the Dolphins and Rams both went Long with the first two picks of the draft.
Thanks to astute use of the No. 1 overall selection and other moves that have panned out, Miami under first-year coach Tony Sparano has been transformed from one-win disaster to surprise playoff contender, winning four in a row before losing a shootout against the Patriots last week.
"One of the things that we talk an awful lot about is the makeup," Sparano said. "The Jake Longs of the world, those type of players that are solid guys, really smart players, pretty disciplined players.
"We didn't do such a great job of that this past weekend, but for the most part we've been a pretty disciplined team."
St. Louis? It's still a bottom feeder, even if Chris Long has shown he was worth the investment of the No. 2 pick.
The Rams (2-9) changed coaches after four season-opening losses. After a two-game jolt of adrenaline under Jim Haslett, they've been absolutely horrible during a five-game losing streak heading into Sunday's matchup.
Recent high picks have not panned out for the most part, and neither have the free agent pickups.
There are rays of hope, though, for a franchise that's been walloped to the tune of 123-13 in the first half during the slump and has totaled five wins the last two seasons. Steven Jackson is expected back from a thigh injury that began the tailspin, and quarterback Marc Bulger (concussion) and tackle Orlando Pace (knee) appear to have made rapid recoveries.
Down the road, if the Dolphins can turn it around this quickly, well, so can the Rams. Haslett is also using the Jets and Falcons, fellow downtroddens last year, as role models. The Dolphins (6-5) won one game last year, the Jets (8-3) and Falcons (7-4) four games each.
"It can be done," Haslett said. "I think it gives fans hope, it gives the team hope, gives ownership hope that you can turn this thing around fast, and you really can."
Haslett has been put on notice by ownership that he may have to win a few more games to be retained for next season. He believes there's enough good players and developing talent that by plugging a few strategic holes the Rams can be competitive in 2009.
One piece already in place is their rookie defensive end, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long fast making a name for himself. He's been a starter since the Rams picked him and leads rookies with four sacks, although Haslett believes he's hit a plateau in recent weeks.
"We talked to him a little bit about picking it back up," Haslett said. "These young kids, this is the time of year when they get tired, and he's got to fight through it."
Long is sure to find his second wind lining up against the other Long.
"That's going to be a lot of fun," Chris Long said. "I'm sure a lot of people are going to hype it to be something that it's not, but it's another great matchup for me."
Jake Long made a statement about his toughness last week, injuring his ankle but then returning after only a few series.
"Things weren't going our way, and you had a young player that you think an awful lot about trying to find ways to get back in that game instead of trying to find ways to get out of the game," Sparano said. "You learn a lot about your team and you learn a lot about some of the people, and that was nice to see."
Jake Long didn't practice Wednesday but appeared to welcome the unique pressure this game brings.
"Absolutely," he said. "I like it when the eyes are on me and people expect a lot of me, because I expect a lot of myself. So I've always embraced that and never shied away from that."
The Dolphins signed Long four days before the draft, shortcircuiting any intrigue.
"I signed so early, but I did know anything could happen," Long said. "I ended up here, and I'm real glad with the situation I'm in."
Sparano was also impressed with Chris Long, who he says is a "super, super guy," while adding "we thought an awful lot of Chris Long, an awful lot." What tilted the scales?
"How close, how not close, that's not relevant," Sparano said. "At the end of this thing, Jake was our guy. Thank God we have him."
Along with Long vs. Long, both teams are dealing with fallout from emotional issues, and players who've had to apologize for meltdowns.
High-strung Rams guard Richie Incognito criticized fans for not knowing "how to cheer, when to cheer" before last week's 27-3 loss to the Bears. Then he goaded fans while walking off the field, cupping his hands to his ears.
Though Incognito was the target, the whole team felt the wrath. Center Brett Romberg said the blowback was "fans kind of screaming and interrupting our huddle."
"Obviously, getting heckled sitting on your bench and things of that sort at home, it
becomes more of a team issue," Romberg said.
Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter, who leads the NFL with 14 1/2 sacks, drew a pair of personal foul penalties at the end of last week's game and refused to leave the field. Another linebacker, Channing Crowder, was ejected after a scuffle with a Patriots player.
"Those things are in the past," Sparano said. "They were in the past to me a while ago, and I'm worried about the St. Louis Rams."
By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)