Balzer: Rams Learning To Finish Games
Sam Bradford (AP/Jeff Roberson)
Sam Bradford (AP/Jeff Roberson)
Posted Oct 8, 2010
Howard Balzer

Life is all about finishing. Finishing a job. Completing a task. Being focused not only on starting a job, but figuring out a way to finish it. That’s pretty basic, but so important.

It also pertains to sports, and most notable football. Coaches preach it all the time. Finish a play. Finish a drive. Finish a game. The teams that do that the best are usually the ones that are successful. Needless to say, the Rams haven’t been successful for a dismal three-year period, and their inability to finish was a big reason.

Heck, even last season, in eight of the team’s 15 losses, the Rams were within one score in the fourth quarter. But finish they could not.

Whatever the reason, whether it’s young players maturing or a team becoming comfortable with the offensive and defensive systems in the second year, a light seemed to come on in Week 3 against the Washington Redskins.

The second half began with a big play by the Redskins that took the ball to the 8-yard line. The defense stiffened and held the Redskins to a field goal, but it still gave Washington a 16-14 lead after the Rams had led 14-0. Here we go again is what everyone in attendance was thinking.

But, a strange thing happened next in what had been an offensive wasteland for the Rams for too long. On their first drive of the third quarter, the Rams drove 74 yards on 12 plays, scoring a touchdown to take a lead they would not relinquish. For the entire 2009 season, the Rams scored just one touchdown in the third quarter. In other words, they finished.

The next week against Seattle was more of the same, with another third-quarter touchdown and the defense blanking the opponent for the second straight week in the fourth quarter.

Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis was miked up for a video on, and he is seen exhorting his teammates, repeatedly saying, “Fourth quarter, fourth quarter, fourth quarter.” The words are being heard.

Said cornerback Ron Bartell, “It’s the way we practice. We stressed finishing all through training camp; that’s what the focus was. And we continue to talk about it and focus on finishing.”

Added safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, “Coach (Steve Spagnuolo) throughout training camp was creating an environment of us playing better coming out in the second half. It’s something we work on and we continue to communicate about getting stronger during practice and the game takes care of itself. When you work extremely hard from Monday through Saturday, when it gets to Sunday you’re just playing, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

Consider these sobering numbers from years past. In 2009, the Rams were outscored 93-25 in the third quarter, 139-60 in the fourth and 232-85 in the second half. For 2008, it was 57-35 and 134-54 for a total of 191-89 and in 2007 it was 111-56 and 147-40 for a total of 258-96. For the first two games of this season, the Rams were outscored 10-3 in the third quarter and 10-7 in the fourth quarter. In total, for 50 games from 2007 through the first two games of 2010, the Rams were outscored 271-119 in the third quarter, 430-161 in the fourth quarter and 701-280 in the second half.

That Washington game began a turnaround. In the two games against the Redskins and Seahawks, the Rams won the third quarter 14-3, the fourth quarter 12-0 and the second half 26-3.

Asked for an explanation, Spagnuolo said, “It’s probably the character of the guys in the locker room. The coaches are doing a good job, although I thought in prior games where people may have thought the right adjustments weren’t made, I think they still were. They’re going on all the time. I think it’s just the character of the players. I would put it on them.”

Of course, the question now, is whether those two games were the beginning of something. As many analysts like to say, “Once is an aberration. Twice is coincidence. Three times is a trend.”

In Detroit on Sunday, the Rams have to show they can do on the road what they did at home the last two games.

Laurinaitis understands and repeats Spagnuolo’s mantra that what happened last Sunday, win or lose, is over. What’s important is what happens next Sunday.

Said Laurinaitis after Week 4, “How we’ve done in the last four games has really no correlation to how we do in these next four or on Sunday. That message has been communicated from the top down and guys took a hold of it.”

Which is why you can always hear him saying, “Fourth quarter, fourth quarter, fourth quarter. Over and over. It’s a fourth-quarter battle. We always have to improve and focus on the fourth quarter.”

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