After four weeks without a defeat, the Rams find themselves with an unexpected but pleasant view of the league.
Why, aren't those the San Francisco 49ers stuck at even after four games? And with losses to New Orleans and Minnesota, to boot? And what of this two-game lead the Rams are enjoying in the NFC West?
After staring up at the 49ers for the last four seasons, the Rams are, for the moment, enjoying the scenery from on high. They share undefeated status with only the Chicago Bears.
Still, for all its appeal, the Rams appear hesitant to admit the obvious possibility: They're good and perhaps on their way to something special.
"I think no one should be scared of us," said offensive guard Dennis Harrah, who also played on the Rams' 1978 team, the one that began its season 7-0. "Being 4-0 is no big deal. I mean, we haven't blown out anybody, yet. Four-and-oh . . . I'm proud of it, but we're not about to sit up and pat ourselves on the back."
Said Coach John Robinson, who makes it a daily point to downplay the Rams' record: "We don't expect to go 16-0. We're just trying to get through Minnesota (the next opponent)."
Robinson refused to compare the Rams with the 49ers, a team he described as the last dominant team in the league. He said the 49ers are capable of a 10-game winning streak and that the Rams would do best to keep their minds on their weekly get-togethers rather than consider their place in football lore.
"We're not a dominant team," he said. "I don't have a sense that we have to keep a string going. If we got to nine or 10 (wins) you might start saying, 'Whooooo.' But I don't think at this point it's (possible). I think it would be stupidity for us if we began to think in those terms."
Robinson isn't entirely immune to talk of what if, however. He spent several minutes of his Monday luncheon explaining what potential still existed on the Rams. He spoke of his team's yet untapped passing game and its use of various running backs. "I think we're a somewhat unsettled team," he said.
Said tight end Mike Barber: "We knew if we could win our first three ballgames, we would really have something going. I don't think there's any question that whoever plays us is respectful. We are the football team to reckon with this year. We're off to a great start and Christmas came early for us with San Francisco losing two."
Added offensive lineman Bill Bain: "Other teams are hoping, 'When are they going to cool off?' I guarantee it, we won't be. If they want to take us lightly, that's fine for us."
The Ram offensive line continues to receive unfortunate news. Russ Bolinger, who broke his left arm on the opening kickoff of Sunday's game against Atlanta, will miss the rest of the season. Bolinger underwent surgery to repair the fracture Sunday night.
Bolinger was a replacement for right guard Harrah, who was relegated to the sideline because of a thigh injury. Harrah is expected to start this week against Minnesota. Irv Pankey, who replaced Bolinger at guard, will return to left tackle with Bain. Tony Slaton, a second-year center from USC, becomes a backup for center Doug Smith.
"This line that we've got is interchangeable, but nobody on this line could play five positions," Bain said. "Tony Slaton has got to get up, work his (bleep) off and help us now."
Robinson said that the Rams may acquire an offensive lineman if the situation grows worse. "I think that if we were threatened at all again, we would have to consider that, an experienced player," he said. "I would say no, but we would have to be aware of it."
The other Ram injuries pose lesser problems. Eric Dickerson, who played sparingly Sunday because of tightness in his left hamstring, will practice Wednesday and should start against the Vikings. Dickerson didn't take part in Monday's brief drills.
"The soreness in Dickerson's leg is almost gone," Robinson said.
Linebackers Norwood Vann, who has a knee injury, and Mike Wilcher, who has a bruised leg, are expected to return, and wide receiver Ron Brown, who has missed two games because of pancreatitis, is expected to resume a limited practice schedule.
Still, the Rams have lost three players to injury: running back Mike Guman, linebacker George Andrews and Bolinger. Robinson is scrambling to fill backup positions and spots on his special teams.
"It looks clear to me that the decision to go to 45 (active roster openings, down from 49) is not a good thing," he said.
Ram management voted to reduce the team roster limit.
Dennis Harrison, who was acquired by the Rams last week, will play left defensive end in passing situations. "He'll probably play a lot," Robinson said.
Robinson plans to play all seven Ram defensive linemen, including nose tackle Greg Meisner. Meisner, who recently returned to team after holding out during a contract dispute, did not play against Atlanta.