Null, Rams not void of humor after latest defeat in lost season

ST. LOUIS -- Keith Null couldn't resist poking fun at himself after the Rams absorbed their latest whipping.

The rookie quarterback, who made his NFL debut Sunday after Kyle Boller's thigh injury tightened up in pre-game warmups, was 27-of-43 passing for 157 yards with five interceptions in a 47-7 loss at Tennessee.

"I had a lot of completions," Null said Monday. "If you count the interceptions, even more completions."

Gallows humor is inevitable for a team that would own the No. 1 pick of the draft if the season ended Sunday. It's customary territory, in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, for a franchise that picked second the previous two years and has lost 22 of its last 23 games.

With three games to go, the Rams (1-12) have the inside track over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose opponents were 26 games above .500 while St. Louis' opponents were 20 games above .500.

Sunday's blowout loss to the Titans marked the seventh time that the Rams' feeble offense was held to 10 or fewer points, and they're not just losing but losing big -- by an average of 16 points.

They're running short of able bodies, too. Quarterback Marc Bulger remains on crutches after missing three games with a fractured left shin bone, guard Jacob Bell (hamstring) could land on injured reserve and the team is considering shutting down rookie offensive tackle Jason Smith after he missed three games because of a concussion.

Yet first-year coach Steve Spagnuolo insists there's no give-up and there will be no give-up as the Rams limp -- make that crawl -- to the finish line. He said players have too much pride to let that happen.

"I hope I'm not being blind to it, but I don't feel that," Spagnuolo said. "Any NFL team that's going to have success going forward, which we certainly plan to do, it's going to be the character of the guys in the locker room."

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If frustration is mounting for Spagnuolo, he hides it well. With a team this bad, virtually all the questions deal with shortcomings, but there has been nothing even close to temper leaking out.

Stretching for positives, the coach dropped Peyton Manning's name while pointing out that all rookie quarterbacks struggle.

"I know you think I'm putting on an act here; I'm not," Spagnuolo said. "Last night was a tough night, this morning was a tough morning, I have my moments, especially when I'm watching the tape."

Spagnuolo said his mood brightens when he's around the players.

"I like our guys," he said. "That's why I'm able to bounce right back."

It's getting tougher for some players.

Running back Steven Jackson was visibly upset after being held to a season-low 47 yards on 19 carries and several times said, "I'm tired." Normally a frequent contributor to Twitter, as of late Monday, Jackson had no postings since before leaving for the game with a hopeful post: "I'm excited for this one."

Rookie linebacker James Laurinaitis, who leads the Rams with 104 tackles, was blunt in his assessment after the game.

"There are no excuses if you give up 40 points in a game," Laurinaitis said. "That is not acceptable on any level, whether it's high school, college or professional."

Other players have retained optimism, despite the odds.

"There's no quit in them," said safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who anticipates undergoing shoulder surgery later this week. "They're going to continue to fight for the rest of the season."

Spagnuolo hedged on his quarterback choice for this Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, even if Boller is healthy. The coach complimented Null mostly for hanging in there against the Titans.

"Under the circumstances, I thought he handled himself well in the huddle," Spagnuolo said. "I thought he was composed, he had a command. ... He'd like some throws back."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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