The Rams are a young team with a new coach and they still have some elementary learning to do. First on the agenda is getting a grip on their division tables.
At the foundation of the NFL formula is the concept that teams must play their divisional opponents twice every season. So it's obvious--even if you're in a four-team division such as the NFC West--you've got to figure a way to win a few of those games or you're going to be hard-pressed to put together a successful season.
Granted, the NFC West could be renamed NFC Best. New Orleans is 11-3 and in second place. Granted, the Rams have only 13 victories during the last three seasons. But they have not beaten a divisional opponent since a 28-17 upset of the 49ers in San Francisco Nov. 11, 1990.
So the Rams still have at least one goal left for 1992: winning their season finale against Atlanta Dec. 27 in Anaheim Stadium.
"Yeah it's important," cornerback Todd Lyght said. "Some of us, a lot of us, have never won a game in our division."
Fifteen in a row and counting. Here's a quick look at a litany of losses:
ONES THAT GOT AWAY
* Dec. 9, 1990, New Orleans 24, Rams 20--The Rams blew a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead, then drove 61 yards to the Saints' six. The Rams were given an extra play when the Saints were offsides as time expired, but Jim Everett's pass to Buford McGee was incomplete.
* Dec. 31, 1990, New Orleans 20, Rams 17--The Rams went 81 yards in 11 plays to tie the score, but Morten Andersen kicked a 24-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.
* Oct. 4, 1992, San Francisco 27, Rams 24--The Rams let a 17-10 fourth-quarter advantage slip away and Mike Cofer kicked a 21-yard field goal with one second to play at Candlestick Park.
* Oct. 11, 1992, New Orleans 13, Rams 10--The Saints' defense made Andersen's 30-yard field goal with four minutes remaining stand up.
* Nov. 1, 1992, Atlanta 30, Rams 28--Cleveland Gary rushed for 130 yards and Everett threw four touchdown passes. But the Falcons went ahead early in the fourth quarter and then stopped the Rams on four possessions.
OVER BY HALFTIME
* Oct. 27, 1991, Atlanta 31, Rams 14--The Falcons sent the Atlanta-Fulton County crowd home early and happy, jumping ahead, 31-0, in the third quarter.
* Nov. 25, 1991, San Francisco 33, Rams 10--Monday Night Football. Anaheim Stadium. And nobody missed any of "Murphy Brown." The 49ers led, 30-0, in the second quarter.
* Dec. 8, 1991, Falcons 31, Rams 14--Everett completed only seven passes and Atlanta's Steve Broussard scored two first-half touchdowns.
* Dec. 13, 1992, Saints 37, Rams 14--The Saints averaged almost five yards per rush and used six Ram turnovers to take a 37-0 lead early in the fourth quarter.
* Dec. 17, 1990, San Francisco 26, Rams 10--Monday Night Football. Joe Montana to Jerry Rice. Enough said.
* Dec. 23, 1990, Atlanta 20, Rams 13--On the game's third play, Everett's pass was intercepted by Scott Case, who returned it for a touchdown. One of those days.
* Sept. 15, 1991, New Orleans 24, Rams 7--Everett completed only six of 17 passes for 71 yards and was sacked five times in the Superdome.
* Sept. 22, 1991, San Francisco 27, Rams 10--Rice and John Taylor combined for 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
* Nov. 3, 1991, New Orleans 24, Rams 17--The Saints intercepted three Everett passes and sacked him three times.
* Nov. 22, 1992, San Francisco 27, Rams 10--The 49ers scored two touchdowns after the Rams pulled to within a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Saved from Saints: New Orleans' vaunted pass rush came up with zero sacks Sunday against the Rams. It was only the second time in the last 30 regular-season games that the Saint sack-masters have failed to get to an opposing quarterback at least once.
These days, Everett couldn't find better protection if he hired professional bodyguards. He's been sacked only four times in the last six games.
"Actually, the pass blocking has been pretty good all year except in the opener at Buffalo," offensive line coach Jim Erkenbeck said. "They can pass block and we expect them to do a good job.
"We felt like if we had any chance to beat New Orleans, we had to pass block. And we did, but, unfortunately, it didn't come out the way we wanted it to.
"We feel like, honestly, we can play with most everybody when it comes to pass blocking. Gerald (Perry, the left tackle) has had a very good year against some very good pass rushers. And Jackie (Slater, the right tackle) has been playing well, too. We feel good about our pass blocking, but we need some work in other areas."
Undoubtedly, but the Rams' offensive front has also been better at opening up holes for the running backs this season. After averaging 80.3 rushing yards last season, they are up to 97.9 this year. And the average yards per rush has increased from 3.3 in '91 to 4.1 this year.