Rams prove their resolve with gritty effort in win over Saints

For weeks we've heard about teams tanking or quitting because all seemed lost, even before the midway point of the season.

First off, players don't quit or tank. Neither do coaches. Well, for the most part. There are players who, when things are going bad, don't try to come back from injuries as fast as they would if their teams were winning, but when it's showtime, guys' pride and machismo kick in.

Cue the St. Louis Rams.

They won Sunday against seemingly every odd possible versus a Saints team that probably played with lessened focus after hanging 62 points on the overmatched Colts last week.

Sure, New Orleans might not have been dialed in, especially for a game against another winless team without its starting quarterback and other key pieces. Still, the Rams played at a high level to defeat a team that has beaten better opponents without playing its best.

"The one thing I've always banked on with this team is they don't quit," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo told me in a phone interview shortly after their stunning 31-21 victory. "They hang in there and they've responded."

Spagnuolo, like Miami's Tony Sparano and Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell, has been through hell trying to conjure just one victory. As a result, job security was an issue and Spagnuolo felt it. What happened against the Saints didn't necessarily give him a reprieve, but the ice is broken for a week.

"0-6 this year was a lot worse than 0-6 in Year 1," Spagnuolo said. "We had expectations -- high expectations -- that hadn't been met."

Then he gave one of the better explanations of why it might appear some teams have mailed it in when they actually haven't.

"Teams that have confidence play confident," Spagnuolo said. "It gives you a better chance. If you don't play confident, teams can knock you around. I don't think at any point we lost confidence, but this helps."

Keep in mind, the Rams had been routed 58-10 in their past two games against Green Bay and Dallas, and again were without quarterback Sam Bradford (high ankle sprain) -- Spagnuolo sounded very uncertain about Bradford's availability next week against the Arizona Cardinals.

It would be hard to blame them for not having confidence.

Got to check the box for pride, though.

Everyone knew that it was within the realm of reality that St. Louis, whose seven victories last season fostered hope, could open the season 0-7 against a schedule that read like this: The Eagles, Giants, Ravens, Redskins, Packers, Cowboys, Saints. But good teams find a way to win.

The Rams haven't been a good team -- and still might not be. Now is the time for them to identify themselves.

"We finally get into the division," Spagnuolo said. "We've been waiting for a division game. We had to wait eight weeks."

The Cardinals are up next in the Rams' first NFC West game. Even though the Cardinals lost after staking a huge lead against Baltimore, they're thinking the same way about the Rams as St. Louis is thinking about Arizona. Playing division games isn't suddenly going to bring much of a break. Though a few more wins could be in order, Seattle and Arizona are just as desperate as St. Louis.

They're all on relatively equal footing, as none are likely to catch the San Francisco 49ers, who have all but locked up the division with their incredible start.

Spagnuolo said his team might have drawn some motivation against the Saints from the hometown baseball team, which attended Sunday's game after winning the World Series on Friday. The baseball Cardinals were down to their last out several times in Game 6, but didn't stop playing and eventually hoisted a championship trophy.

Manager Tony La Russa and several players visited with the Rams before kickoff.

"Tony came down and had on a Rams No. 8 (Bradford) jersey on," Spagnuolo said. "It's really emotional and uplifting when somebody of that stature comes in and shows you how much support you."

The Rams likely won't be hoisting any championship hardware this season, but they did help dispel the notion about players, coaches, even franchises tanking. Even if it was a lucky win, it didn't come without the Rams creating their own breaks and players taking ownership of what they do for a living.

That's being professional and when things aren't going well, that's the least anyone could ask for.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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