The 2013 St. Louis Rams’ season was filled with ups and downs, costly injuries, and the emergence of rookies.
The Rams finished last in the NFC West with a 7-9 record, which isn’t bad considering all the setbacks the team had to deal with throughout the year.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, St. Louis used their #8 pick to draft WR Tavon Austin from West Virginia. They would later draft his teammate, fellow WR Stedman Bailey. Two other notables from the draft were RB Zac Stacy from Vanderbilt (5th rounder) and LB Alex Ogletree from Georgia (the Rams 2nd pick of the 1st round).
St. Louis was expected to finish last by most media outlets, for being in such a tight and tough division. St. Louis had a fairly strong training camp, and were prepared to improve on last year’s 7-8-1 record.
In Week 1 of the regular season, St. Louis trailed one of their rivals, the Arizona Cardinals, 24-13 going into the 4th quarter. But the Sam Bradford-led Rams were not going down without a fight, and rallied to beat the Cardinals with a last minute field goal by Greg Zuerlein. Unfortunately for the Rams, things started to go downhill.
The very next week, they faced the Atlanta Falcons, who added a new weapon over the off-season: former Rams running back Steven Jackson. St. Louis was once again dug into another deep hole, down 24-10 heading into the 4th, and while Bradford led them to within a touchdown, the struggling defense allowed Jason Snelling to run one in, sealing the win for Atlanta, as St. Louis lost 31-24.
The following week, St. Louis played one of their worst games of the year, losing 31-7 to the Dallas Cowboys. The Rams could not get any kind of rhythm going in the game, blew coverage’s, allowing Tony Romo to have a strong day, throwing a key touchdown to Dez Bryant past an exhausting Rams secondary. The Rams fell to 1-2 on the year.
But the worst performance was yet to come….
On Thursday Night Football, in front of legends ranging from Jack Youngblood to Kurt Warner, the St. Louis Rams faced another one of their heated rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, who St. Louis beat once and tied once the year before. Looking for redemption, St. Louis played atrocious football. Running back Daryl Richardson rushed 19 times for 18 yards in his worst career performance. Bradford only went 19 of 41 for 202 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT in the crushing 35-11 defeat.
St. Louis would bounce back, however, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 34-20 despite being out-gained in total yards. The following week, boasting a 2-3 record, St. Louis traveled down to Houston to face the struggling Texans. The Rams completely dominated Houston, winning 38-13, despite Houston dominating the time of possession throughout the game. What sealed the win for St. Louis was Ogletree’s 98-yard INT return TD on a pass thrown by backup T.J Yates. The win put St. Louis at 3-3 on the year.
And then the next week…it happened…..
Against the Carolina Panthers, and nearing the end of a 30-15 lost, with 5:27 left in the 4th, Bradford scrambled toward the sideline, and was thrown down awkwardly by Panthers’ safety Mike Mitchell. It was later revealed that Bradford had a torn ACL, and would miss the remainder of the season. This entrusted the role of quarterback in the hands of inexperienced veteran Kellen Clemens.
His first test would be against the tough Seattle Seahawks at home. With the St. Louis Cardinals playing on the other side of town, St. Louis wasn’t expecting much for the undermanned Rams. But they brought it to the Seahawks, sacking Russell Wilson seven times and holding him to less than 200 yards total. On the final drive of the game, Clemens led the Rams down-field as those in attendance were hoping for the upset. At the one yard line on fourth down, instead of running the ball in, the Rams made the controversial decision to throw the ball and Clemens’ pass fell incomplete, as Seattle escaped St. Louis with a 14-9 victory.
Clemens second test as the Rams starter would be against coach Jeff Fisher’s former team, the Tennessee Titans. The Titans jumped to a 7-0 lead thanks to a Shone Greene touchdown run. Two touchdown runs from new starting running back Zac Stacy kept the Rams within reach of the Titans. Trailing by a touchdown late in the 4th, Clemens made a costly fumble that sealed the win for Tennessee and dropped the Rams to 3-6.
With one game left before the bye, many people did not expect them to defeat Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis. St. Louis would accept that challenge. In the first quarter, Rams defensive end Chris Long took a fumble and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. That was only the beginning for the Rams. With a 14-0 lead, Tavon Austin took a punt return from his own two-yard line, a went 98 yards for the score. Later in the game, he caught a 57-yard touchdown on a pass from Clemens. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Colts scored, with Luck throwing to Coby Fleener. St. Louis won the game 38-8 and had momentum heading into the bye week.
After the bye, it was a battle of brothers as Kyle Long (OT, Chicago Bears) faced his brother Chris from the Rams in a St. Louis/Chicago clash at the Edward Jones Dome. The Bears once destructive defense was a shell of what it once was, and the Rams took full advantage, as they rolled to a 42-21 win in a strong all-around performance. In his few starts thus far, Clemens showed some good ability, but his next test would be in a game St. Louis needed to win.
Against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park, the Rams had to beat the 49ers to realistically remain in the hunt for a wild card spot. What ensued was one of Clemens’ worst performances, going 19-38 for 218 yards a touchdown (which came in garbage time) and an interception. The Rams wound up losing once again to the 49ers 23-13 in a sloppy game.
With a 5-7 record heading into week 14, the Rams still had a slim chance to remain in the wild card hunt. But against the Arizona Cardinals, any hope was shattered, as they shelled out another lackluster performance, as Clemens threw two picks and was held without a touchdown in a 30-10 beat-down at the hands of the Cardinals.
With two straight losses, St. Louis was, for the 10 straight year, guaranteed a non-winning record. But that would not stop them from playing their hearts out the last three games.
At home against the New Orleans Saints, the Rams played their best football since the Colts’ game. St. Louis’ dominant defensive line torched the Saints’ offensive lineman, getting to Drew Brees at every turn. At halftime, the Rams held a 24-3 lead. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Robert Quinn increased his sack number, by getting to Brees twice in the game, and also forcing (and recovering) a fumble. Despite an attempt at a comeback by New Orleans, two blocked Garrett Hartley field goal’s sealed the win for St. Louis.
The next week was the final home game of the year, against a mediocre Buccaneers squad. St. Louis wore the 20th century throwback jerseys for the game and dubbing it “Rams homecoming” as many Rams’ legends came in to see the game. Bobby Rainey put the Bucs up ahead early to a 7-0 lead, but from then on, it was all Rams. In the same game Quinn broke Kevin Carter’s sack record set in 1999 by notching his 18th sack in the game. Including a big reverse TD to Stedman Bailey (his first career TD),Quinn had three sacks overall, and Mike Glennon could not get anything going as St. Louis defeated Tampa Bay 23-13 to improve their record to 7-8 on the season.
The final game of the season was up against the Seahawks at Seattle, where the crowd was as rambunctious as on any week. Clemens put the Rams in a hole early, throwing a pick-six to Malcom Smith. Two field goals put Seattle up 13-0 on St. Louis at the half. The offensive could not get moving all afternoon, and, along with poor officiating (Kendall Langford got ejected for hitting a ref, when in reality, the ref walked into his hand), the Rams fell to Seattle 27-9. Quinn finished a sack away from winning the inaugural Deacon Jones Award for NFL leader in sacks.
The Rams finished with a 7-9 record and were last in the NFC West, which has become the toughest division in the NFL. There were a lot of positives that came out of this season: the emergence of a future star back in Stacy, who finished only 27 yards shy of 1000. Also the fact St. Louis has one of (if not the best) front four defensive lineman in the NFL, and that even in times of major struggles, this team will fight to the end. Rams punter Johhny Hekker set an NFL-record with a 44.2 net-punt average, and both Hekker and Quinn will represent the Rams in the Pro Bowl this year.
But there were also negatives: Losing Bradford hurt the team in the long run, and against the Buccaneers, top free agent OT Jake Long tore his ACL, putting his future for 2014 in jeopardy. Also, the secondary struggled a lot over the course of the season, blowing key coverage’s and making costly mistakes. DB is a position the Rams should look into for the draft to add more depth to the position.
This off-season is make or break for the Rams. With the #2 pick they received from Washington (in addition to their own 1st round pick), but the Rams have the ability to become a top playoff contender if they make the right decisions these next few months. If not, only time will tell, but with another tough schedule next year, St. Louis has little to no room for error.
But after seeing the talent this team possesses, all being led by one of the NFL’s most experienced and best coaches, and with a slew of top picks in next year’s draft, St. Louis fans have reason to believe this team is on the rise. Because they are.
Thank you St. Louis Rams for a hard-fought 2013 season.