The Rams, finally, can put away the mind-bending playoff formulas and the comeback speeches. The team that seemed out of the playoff race two months ago was officially eliminated Monday night by the Dallas Cowboys, who knocked the wild-card out of the Rams with a 29-21 win at Anaheim Stadium.
The Rams didn't want it to end like this. And really, it wasn't supposed to. The Cowboys, losers of four straight and going down faster than Texas oil stock, were supposedly no match for the Rams, who carried a five-game winning streak and a playoff abacus into the game.
But it was the Cowboys who played as if something was on the line. It was the Cowboys who hit as if there were no tomorrow.
"We got played off our feet," Ram Coach John Robinson said. "They came out hitting us and I don't think we ever recovered."
Mostly, Dallas hit the Rams with a ton of Herschel Walker, a one-man wrecking ball with cleats. Walker did it on the ground, with 108 yards in 23 carries. A typical scene had Walker dragging the Ram secondary on his back and Walker acting as if it were dandruff. When Walker wasn't dragging them around he was flagging balls down. finishing with 54 receiving yards on six receptions.
"Herschel Walker played like a great player," Robinson said. "He ran right at us. He made the tough yards against us. I thought he was outstanding. I thought he was the dominating player on the field."
If that's true, then the dominating player most often on the sideline had to be kicker Roger Ruzek, who kicked a team-record five goals against the Rams. Ruzek's kicks measured 24, 42, 44, 47 and 37 yards. Ruzek kicked the Rams out of the playoffs.
But would it matter anyway, since the Rams will be going to San Francisco next week without quarterback Jim Everett and fullback Mike Guman?
Everett suffered a small bone chip in his right ankle after being sacked by defensive end Jim Jeffcoat in the third quarter. Guman, who had suddenly become a great asset on offense, went out with a torn left arch.
It was that kind of night for the Rams and this kind of night for the Cowboys, who essentially put the game away in the third quarter on a 27-yard scoring pass from quarterback Steve Pelluer to Doug Cosbie. Ram safety Nolan Cromwell might have covered on the play had he not slipped on the grass and lost sight of Cosbie completely.
So, there will be no playoffs for the Rams. At 6-8, they have assured themselves a losing season and their coach his first losing campaign in more than 15 years.
"I feel sorry about getting so far behind at the start of the season, but I was pleased with the way we were able to come back," Everett said.
Against the Cowboys, the Rams struggled, and only hoped to keep the game close enough to make a run at the lead.
But hope seemed lost when the Rams lost Everett.
Trailing, 26-14, in the second half, Everett went out with 12:43 remaining when defensive end Jeffcoat circled from the right side and swiped Everett's ankle with his right arm, the ankle buckling under the pressure.
For the Rams, it was much more than a seven-yard sack.
Everett was helped off the field and seated on a sideline training table, where a team of Ram doctors and trainers surrounded him.
It appeared for a moment that Everett might return. Trainer Jim Anderson stripped the ankle of tape and re-wrapped it again and again.
On the field, the Rams were running out of time.
With 11:30 left, Mickey Sutton partially blocked a Mike Saxon punt, the ball rolling only five yards to the Dallas' 33, where the Rams took over.
Everett, simultaneously on the sideline, was lacing up his shoe. He tested the ankle on the sideline, but backup Steve Dils replaced him in the huddle.
In their last real chance to make a game of it, Dils and the offense sputtered, the drive ending when Mike Lansford's 47-yard field goal fell short in the end zone with 10:25 left.
With 10:21 remaining, Everett made his way to the Ram locker room, never to return.
The Rams got the ball back at their own nine-yard line with 7:08 left, but the drive and the Rams' playoff chances ended on fourth down when Tim Tyrrell dropped a Dils pass at the Ram 19.
Ruzek turned the mistake into his fifth field goal of the night, this one a 37-yarder with 4:33 left to make it 29-14.
The Rams, too late of course, scored late in the game on a 15-yard pass from Dils to House with 2:38 left.
There was one more final, absolutely last chance for the Rams when Larry Kelm recovered an on-side kick at the Ram 37 with 2:34 remaining.
A few big plays converted in a hurry and maybe the Rams could pull off something. But all hope ended when Dils' first pass was intercepted by Dallas safety Michael Downs.
"It all boils down to pride," Cowboy defensive tackle Randy White said of the win. "If you have pride in yourself and pride in your team, you'll find a way to win."
It was 16-7 at the half and about all the Rams could do was second-guess themselves for the field goal that got away.