Reflecting on the 10 Defining Moments of St. Louis Rams' 2012 Season

Dan GruchalaContributor IIJanuary 8, 2013

Reflecting on the 10 Defining Moments of St. Louis Rams' 2012 Season

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    An apt word to define the St. Louis Rams' 2012 season would be "progress."

    That's all we really hoped for from the first year of the Jeff Fisher era, and he and the team delivered.

    That Rams fans were able to legitimately—if somewhat delusively—talk about making the playoffs as late as Week 16 of the season shows just how far Jeff Fisher, Les Snead and company have taken the perpetually downtrodden franchise in less than 12 months.

    Lest we allow the resultant warmth from what could be fairly termed a successful season to shroud the full reality from our perspective, we must also recognize that some of the defining moments elucidated the team's shortcomings.

    Everything that the 2012 Rams were is now well known. Let's take a look at the moments that educated us.

2012 NFL Draft

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    Some Rams fans are still troubled by their team's decision to forgo the opportunity to draft Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick of the 2012 draft.

    Here's the thing: The 2011 Rams were so bad that 24 of the 53 players from their opening day roster are no longer in the NFL.

    If you put RG3 on the 2011 Rams he doesn't fare much, if any, better than did Sam Bradford.

    It was a terrible team that had a fittingly terrible season.

    The rebuilding task that lay in front of Jeff Fisher and Les Snead was so expansive that one player would hardly have made a difference.

    The Rams needed picks, as many of them as they could get.

    By trading down with Washington, Dallas and Chicago, the Rams were able to acquire Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead, and Rok Watkins (watch out for this guy next year—a 6'3", 338 pound mountain of an offensive guard who spent the entirety of his rookie season on the IR).

    If they take RG3 they don't have any of those guys.

    Sam Bradford haters are going to hate—no one can stop that. The more rational of us can clearly see that what the Rams did on draft day 2012 laid the foundation for a well-thought and expeditious rebuilding process.

    When you also take into consideration that the Rams are still owed Washington's first-round picks in 2013 and 2014, the exceptional job that the Rams did with their 2012 draft is indisputable.

Week 1 vs. Detroit: Time to See What You've Got

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    Though the Rams lost the game, this Week 1 showdown with the Detroit Lions, who were coming off of a playoff appearance, showed the NFL that these Rams were of a different breed.

    Predictably, the Rams offense did not move the ball very effectively, but no one expected this Rams team—especially in the first week of the season—to be an offensive juggernaut.

    The defense, however, distinctly showed what their character would be in 2012.

    Though they gave up 346 yards through the air, the Rams run defense was stout, allowing only 83 rushing yards on the game.

    More importantly, four key new additions had a major impact on the game. The new starting cornerback duo of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins each had an interception, with Finnegan returning his for a touchdown (see picture). JoLonn Dunbar, another offseason acquisition, also had an interception to go along with six tackles, two of which were for a loss.

    Rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein, who was already piling up the nicknames before his first NFL game—in retrospect, that may have been a bad thing—also impressed, hitting all three of his field goal attempts with a long of 48 yards.

    That they ended up losing the game on a last-minute touchdown pass was disappointing, to be sure. But that they came as close as they did to beating a playoff team with one of the most high-powered offenses in the league (at the time) in Jeff Fisher's first game was hugely encouraging.

    It's safe to say that Rams fans have never been so excited by a loss.

Getting the First Win

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    Is that not one of the coolest pictures you've ever seen?

    Despite getting utterly hosed by the replacement officials, the Rams still managed to beat RG3 and the Washington Redskins in a thoroughly convincing fashion.

    It was Sam Bradford's best game of the 2012 campaign. He completed 26-of-35 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. 

    Rams' running backs Daryl Richardson (15 for 83) and Steven Jackson (9 for 58) combined for 141 yards.

    Cortland Finnegan had another interception and Young G.Z. was again a perfect 3-for-3 in a game the Rams dominated after the first quarter, in the process laying to rest any concerns that their Week 1 performance was a fluke.

NFL Sack Masters Begin to Establish Themselves

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    The Rams finished tied with the Denver Broncos for the league lead in sacks, with 52.

    The Week 3 loss to the Chicago Bears, while ugly, was the first game in which the Rams recorded multiple sacks, both of which came courtesy of Chris Long.

    It was the first step on a long road that would end at a destination not many would have been bold enough to predict for this Rams defense.

    This game was also defining in that it proved the offense was not going to be able to duplicate its performance against the Redskins on a consistent basis.

Rams Show How They Are Going to Win Games

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    After an ugly, ugly loss like the one the Rams experienced at the hands of the Bears, Rams teams of the past likely would not have responded with a win against a tough NFC West opponent.

    The Week 4 victory over the Seattle Seahawks proved that this team had some fight in it.

    On the heels of the Bears game, this one was equally unsightly for those fans who like to see a lot of points, as neither team managed to score 20.

    This was the first game that gave us the formula the Rams would use to achieve the rest of their wins: top-tier defensive effort complemented by an offense that does just enough to win.

    It worked against Seattle in Week 4 and it would work five more times for the Rams in 2012.

Putting the League on Notice

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    No one knew what the 2-2 Rams were going to be.

    The 4-0 Arizona Cardinals looked like they were for real. Their 20-18 Week 2 win over the perennially title-contending New England Patriots seemed to indicate that Arizona was going to be around for the long haul.

    The Rams pass rush, however, was the beginning of the end for them.

    The Rams defense totaled nine sacks in the process of inflicting a savage beating on Kevin Kolb that left him bloody.

    With the Cardinals offense unable to get anything going in the face of the Rams' ferocious pass rush, the Rams offense did just enough to earn the win.

    They had taken down a 4-0 team and moved their record to 2-0 in the division. Any remaining doubters were surely silenced.

Just When You Think It's Safe to Be Hopeful

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    The Week 6 loss to the Miami Dolphins was shocking—shocking in that they lost, and how they lost.

    It wasn't only Greg Zuerlein's three missed field goals, though they didn't help.

    The bigger culprits were the drive-killing penalties the Rams inflicted on themselves.

    The Rams were penalized 12 times for 94 yards.

    It was the first game in which penalties indisputably played a role in a Rams' loss. Sadly, it would not be the last.

The Tie in San Francisco

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    Their previous game was their worst of the season: a 45-7 shellacking at the hands of the New England Patriots.

    Coming off of that game and into a game against the 49ers, who many believed to be the best team in the NFL, no one gave the Rams a chance. Not only was it the 49ers, but the game was in San Francisco. The betting crowd had San Francisco by 11, a wide margin.

    The Rams had something to prove after their poor showing in London. They came out playing like that was just what they intended to do.

    By the start of the second quarter, the Rams had a two touchdown lead thanks to Brian Quick's first TD reception of his career, and a Steven Jackson seven-yard TD run.

    The 49ers fought back, but so did the Rams.

    Near the end of the game, the Rams had penalties called on three different plays that, had they been allowed to stand, would have either won the game or set them up for the win.

    Still, a tie against the 49ers in San Francisco was enough to allow the Rams to hold their heads high as they walked off the field, when most people thought they would be running away with broken horns.

Proving Themselves All over Again

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    After a hugely disappointing loss to the New York Jets at home and an unimpressive victory over the fading Cardinals in Arizona, the Rams returned home to face the San Francisco 49ers for the second time in four weeks.

    Were they the team that played the 49ers to a tie in San Francisco or were they the team that lost to the dysfunctional and tail-spinning Jets at home?

    The Rams won the game thanks in large part to the potential Defensive Rookie of the Year, Janoris Jenkins, returning a fumble for a touchdown, and their wall-like run defense which held the venerable Frank Gore to only 58 yards on 23 carries.

    The Rams offense didn't help much. Though Bradford went 26-of-39, he only managed 221 yards and no touchdowns from those 26 completions. Steven Jackson didn't fare much better with his 48 yards on 21 carries.

    But that was the kind of game we expected from the Rams and 49ers. When two defensive stalwarts get together, the team with the better playmakers will likely get the win. Janoris Jenkins proved yet again that he is a playmaker of the utmost ability.

Leaving a Good Taste

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    The Seattle Seahawks' streak of blowout victories had to stop some time; but not many people thought it would stop at home, and fewer still thought it would stop against the Rams.

    The Seahawks had beaten their previous three opponents (Cardinals, Bills and 49ers) by a combined score of 150-30.

    The Rams came into the game seemingly with nothing to play for, their playoff aspirations finally mathematically dashed.

    The Seahawks could potentially have won the NFC West if San Francisco lost to the Arizona Cardinals.

    The game had all the makings of yet another CenturyLink Field beat-down.

    In another hard fought game, the score was tied at 13 until Russell Wilson scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:39 seconds left in the fourth quarter. 

    In their final opportunity of the season to prove something to themselves, their fans and the rest of the NFL, the Rams showed that this was a team that would not lie down. Even though they lost the game, their gutsy and inspired performance against a team and in a place that had been so unkind to its visitors gave them something positive to take into the off-season.

    The future for the St. Louis Rams looks bright indeed.