Both the Chiefs and Rams were probably teams that opposing fans chalked up as wins when the 2010 NFL schedule originally came out. Really, who could blame them?
The two Missouri teams combined to go 5-27 (.156) last season and both came off 2-14 (.125) campaigns the year before. Go back another and it doesn’t get much better. From 2007-09, the Rams and Chiefs jointly produced a 16-80 (.167) overall record.
St. Louis came into 2010 with a rookie left tackle protecting a rookie quarterback. Steven Jackson was to be accounted for, but little else made opponents nervous.
Kansas City wasn’t much different. There were free agent additions on the offensive side of the ball, but the league’s 30th ranked defense was banking on the development of in-house players and an immediate impact from its rookie class.
Who would have thought that BOTH the Chiefs and Rams would be leading their respective divisions with three games left to play?
“If you would have said, ‘hey, with three games left you guys will be 8-5 and have your own control of destiny to get to the playoffs…’ if you would have said that before the season started, I would have taken it,” G
Most Chiefs fans would have taken that as well, but the expectations have since changed. The Chiefs find themselves pushing for more against a Rams team that’s doing the same.
“The whole goal is to be successful during the season so that you can get into the playoffs, and then you start a whole new quest,” Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “To be sitting here entering Game 14 and that we can still accomplish our primary goal, which was to win the NFC West, is a good thing. We don’t really get stuck on standings and statistics, we just get focused on this game because there is something that we can get and that motivates us.”
In many ways, the rapid rise of the Rams has mirrored that of the Chiefs. Like Kansas City, the Rams placed an emphasis on acquiring high character players both through the draft and in free agency this past offseason. In addition to adding speed and talent their rosters, both teams wanted to find leadership as well.
“I always point to the character of the players inside of the locker room,” Spagnuolo said of the Rams success this season. “I think that we have a good group that we’ve put together. There are leaders in there that have stepped forward, guys that we brought in and guys that were here, that were really hungry and ready to turn this thing around.
“Certainly a lot of the young guys that we have in here have been a big, big bonus to us, but I still think that it’s been the veteran leadership in the locker room that’s made the most difference.”
Todd Haley has seen plenty of those lousy Rams teams, playing against St. Louis four times while serving as offensive coordinator with the Cardinals from 2007-08. Haley’s teams swept the Rams, outscoring them 150-73.
“This is a team that’s not a lot different than us that has been a little downtrodden that’s now starting to make some progress, it is clear to see,” Haley said. “This is a team that having been out in Arizona I saw a lot of and clearly can see this is a well-coached team, they’re getting better.”
“They are a young, fast and hungry football team,” Waters added. “You can tell that they’ve been coached very well and you know where they come from. The Philadelphia/N.Y. Giants background that their coaching staff comes from, you can see it by the way that they play on the football field. They are very fast and very aggressive.”
Although not identical, the Rams and Chiefs have still managed to mirror each other closely for the past several seasons. When at their best, each team is getting efficient quarterback play and keeping possession of the football.
Meanwhile, St. Louis is 0-10 with a negative turnover ratio under Spagnuolo and has lost 21 consecutive home games when finishing in the minus, including a 0-5 mark this season. The Chiefs are winless this season when finishing negative as well.
A stretch of less than 250 miles down I-70 separates Arrowhead Stadium from the Edward Jones Dome. Through doing many of the same things, the Chiefs and Rams have made this year’s Governor’s Cup the most meaningful game in the series’ history.
“I don’t what to say that we’ll feel more pressure, but we definitely feel a sense of urgency,” Waters said. “Time is ticking and you only have so many opportunities. It’s not like it’s the middle of the season where you know there is a way to change things or get better at things. Right now it’s about finishing strong and taking care of business. This is a great opportunity to do so.”