ESPN's Week 13 Power Rankings are out, and the Rams have climbed to dizzying heights -- 18th overall, as high as they've ranked since the fall from their Martzian peak. Interestingly enough, if we compare this year's climb to the muddle of the 2006 team that finished a disappointing 8-8, they have reached a similar peak at the exact same point in the season.
Darken the lights and cue the slide show:
As week 12 of 2006 concluded, the Rams had just beaten a feisty San Francisco 49ers team by a slim three-point margin. Their record ascended to 5-6 on the season, and they headed home for a critical week 13 game against the deeply flawed 2-9 Arizona Cardinals. The similarities to this week's matchup are astounding.
But as you might surmise from that plummeting purple line, that Sunday in '06 did not go well.
Despite more than 150 yards from scrimmage by Steven Jackson, and touchdown catches by both Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, the Rams could not overcome 3 back-breaking interceptions thrown by Marc Bulger, and fell 34-20 on that day. That loss essentially broke the back of the once-optimistic Scott Linehan era, and even though the Rams rallied to finish with three consecutive wins, they could not catch the unworthily 9-7 Seattle Seahawks for the division crown. This painful loss to a busted-up Cardinals team was the reason why.
In many ways, this 2006 game was a mirror of this year's season opener against Arizona, including a starring role on defense by Adrian Wilson. Bradford's 3-INT game still stands as the worst of his career, but the Rams rookie QB has been on a torrid pace, putting these growing pains of the very recent past well behind him. Currently riding an 11-1 TD to interception streak, Bradford is still just scratching the surface of his potential.
"The scouts I spoke with Sunday and Monday said they envisioned Bradford dominating the NFC West for years to come."Mike Sando, ESPN: NFC West QB Rankings, Week 12
This coming weekend, the Rams will travel to the den of a badly wounded animal, one content to snipe at itself and surrounding reporters, and hope to exorcise the ghosts of 2006 in the process. (Meanwhile, Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson will be trying to exorcise ghosts of Denny Green after his post-game tirade following Monday night's loss.)
What's ironic is that while an 8-8 finish seemed lackluster in '06, and this loss to Arizona was a fateful step dooming us to a lack of a winning record, a similar 8-8 finish this season (on the back of a win this coming week) might very well win the division, and either way would be seen as a massive improvement by Rams fans. It's funny how three years of absolute misery can re-color your perceptions.