CHICAGO — Ram Coach John Robinson could find something nice to say about a Pia Zadora film festival. About new Coke. Heck, about the Chicago Bears, the team that defeated the Rams, 24-0, in Sunday's NFC Championship at Soldier Field.
But ask him about Ram quarterback Dieter Brock and Robinson hesitates, searching for a nice way to describe an afternoon of stalled offense, missed passes and failed opportunities.
"I think he played competitively," Robinson says.
This is like saying your blind date has a great personality; that the steak is fine--for leather. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
All season Robinson has stood by Brock and extended his support. Sunday was no different, except that he did it a step away, a moment slower. Tough to find something encouraging from a quarterback performance that featured the following:
--Ten completions in 31 attempts for 66 yards, 1 interception and a long gain of 15 yards.
--At least 10 passes underthrown or overthrown to open receivers.
--A bumbled scoring opportunity at the end of the first half made possible, in part, by Brock's failure to secure a final timeout.
Brock wasn't the reason the Rams lost to the Bears. But he helped. A lot.
"I don't think I threw the ball that well today," Brock said. "A lot of it was going into the wind. But I think I played as well as I could."
This was supposed to be a Brock kind of day. Cold . . . wind . . . a big game. Brock spent 11 seasons in the Canadian Football League, where chill and stiff breezes are commonplace. He was a veteran, too, supposedly comfortable with weighted shoulders. Hadn't the Grey Cup experience and about 40,000 yards worth of completions seen to that?
But, on Sunday, Brock appeared disoriented, as if someone had awakened him from a nap minutes before the game began. His first pass, a throw to Bobby Duckworth, was wide. His second attempt, this one to Henry Ellard, was low.
And so it went, this afternoon of misfortune.
"On the deep patterns, the ball would curve," Ram receiver Ron Brown said. "I can't say the wind was the reason why we didn't win."
The Rams had hoped to establish their running attack with Eric Dickerson and then ask Brock to keep the Bear defense honest with short, safe passes. Then the Bears took a 10-0 lead in the first period and that was that.
It didn't help when the Rams ruined a perfectly decent scoring chance at the end of the second period with faulty timekeeping, or when the Bears added another touchdown midway through the third quarter.
The 17-point deficit forced the Rams to rely on Brock, something the Bears were pleased to see.
"Running the ball is their bread and butter," Bear defensive end Dan Hampton said. "They were going to run until they died. They did and they died."
Said Bear linebacker Mike Singletary: "Our plan was to stop Dickerson and see what we could do about Dieter Brock."
Singletary went on to say that Brock was an unknown quantity "because maybe he could set the team on fire."
Oh, Brock set them on fire, except that he dropped the match on himself and the Rams. The Bears and the wind did the rest.
"It's just a tough loss," Brock said. "We were one game away from the Super Bowl. We gave it our best, but they just outplayed us."
The Bears were assisted by some Three Stooges routines. With 1:04 remaining in the first half and the ball on the Chicago 21, the Rams failed to get a field goal or touchdown. They moved to the Bear five, but not before time had expired with the Rams holding one timeout.
"I was looking around (for an official)," Brock said. "I don't know where any of them were."
The bungled use of the final minute cost the Rams a field-goal attempt and a feeling of hope.
"That hurt," Dickerson said. "That hurt a lot. I'm still thinking about it."
For the most part, the Ram offensive line provided Brock with time to overthrow. He was sacked three times and hurried in several other instances. Tyrone Keys, a 6-7 Bear defensive end, blocked one Brock pass.
"(Brock's) got to be 5-5 or 5-6," linebacker Otis Wilson said. "But he's shorter than he used to be."
Only three Rams didn't play Sunday: guard Russ Bolinger and quarterbacks Jeff Kemp and Steve Dils. As the game slipped away, did Robinson consider a change of quarterbacks?
"No, I did not," Robinson said firmly.
Said Kemp, who would have been the likely replacement: "In my opinion, it's not an issue."
This was the second consecutive week that Brock had struggled. Against Dallas in the division playoff, Brock completed 6-of-22 passes for 50 yards with 1 interception. Robinson said that, yes, it wasn't one of his best games, but he expected Brock to redeem himself against Chicago. He nearly guaranteed it.
Instead, Brock finished two postseason games with 53 attempts and 116 yards, an embarrassing 2.2-yard average.
Despite Brock's troubles, Ram players said they hold no grudge. "Dieter worked hard all year," Kemp said. "Dieter worked hard today."