With three wins in their last three tries, the Rams have finally earned the right to ask "What if?" about their season.
Such questions wouldn't have applied had the Rams finished 1-14, which didn't seem so farfetched a few days ago. Then, it wouldn't have mattered, strike or no strike, Eric Dickerson or no Eric Dickerson.
But in Sunday's 35-3 victory over Tampa Bay, the Rams, however belatedly, played as well as all those sports magazines predicted in July that they would.
And now, with four games remaining and an outside shot at an 8-7 season, what if?
"What ifs are for other people," Coach John Robinson said Monday. "Obviously, sure, when you go home at night you put together a whole bunch of scenarios. If you win one game against Houston or Minnesota or the one strike game against Atlanta that we should have won. But the fact is, we're 4-7 and have a chance to beat Detroit and do well the rest of the season. That's the reality. February's a good time for what ifs."
But who can wait?
First, there was Houston, the opener on Sept. 13. The Rams, remember, had a 16-3 lead in the fourth quarter before the Astrodome roof caved in on them.
Even after the Oilers took a 20-16 lead, the Rams had two chances to come back, but a fumble by Dickerson--remember him?--with 2 minutes 41 seconds left killed one drive and an interception thrown by Jim Everett stopped another with 1:01 left.
The next week, against Minnesota at home, the Rams let a 16-14 lead slip away when Wade Wilson threw a touchdown pass to Hassan Jones with 30 seconds left to give the Vikings a 21-14 win.
On the crucial play, Jones beat cornerback LeRoy Irvin, who's mind at that time could have been almost anywhere. What if Irvin, who was in a mental wasteland because of his contract squabbles, played it like the Irvin of old? Does Hassan Jones beat him on the play? Do the Rams win?
And what about the last strike game against Atlanta Oct. 18, when the Rams took a 20-7 lead into the fourth quarter, then lost, 24-20?
How many chances did the Rams have to win that game? On the game's last play from the Atlanta four-yard line, Steve Dils' pass into the end zone was intercepted.
If the Rams had won two of those games, they would be 6-5 with four games left and still presumably in the wild-card playoff hunt.
But more about that in February.
In his first five games of the season, wide receiver Ron Brown had 7 receptions for 101 yards and no touchdowns. In his last three, he has caught 9 passes for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Is it the same guy?
Robinson said that Brown's recent practice habits have produced results.
"Ron Brown's working at it," Robinson said. "At times in the past, there was a frustration level there. Now, when we don't get a pass pattern right, we do it again and again. Ron has worked very hard in the last month, not that he didn't work before, but there just seems to be something there now."
Or, as Brown said after Sunday's game: "It is a lot more fun to be playing in a situation when you are winning."
Ram Notes A few weeks ago, the career of 13-year veteran Dennis Harrah appeared to be winding down. He was forced out of two games because of a lower back injury and has been splitting time with Duval Love at right guard. But the rest has served Harrah well. "I'm impressed with Harrah's comeback, so to speak, from a back injury that maybe was debilitating to the point where all of us thought, hey, this might be it," John Robinson said. "Now, he's back playing and in his fight back he's playing an important role leadership-wise."
Center Doug Smith's knee injury does not appear serious. . . . The details of Sunday's game were slowly returning Monday to safety Nolan Cromwell, who was knocked unconscious in the third quarter. "It was a KO, he was out," Robinson said. "But I think he'll be OK." . . . Safety Vince Newsome, who missed the game with a knee injury, should also return this week against the Detroit Lions. . . . Robinson said Monday that defensive end Shawn Miller's sprained ankle may keep him out the rest of the season. Miller has missed the last five games with the injury, but still shares the team lead in sacks--six--with Gary Jeter.