Matched against their opponent's second-best quarterback, the Second-Best Team in Football also was the second-best team on Lambeau Field Sunday.
The Rams' long-awaited jaunt down the Road to Super Bowl XXV began with a wrong turn, a handful of accidents and a locker room full of shaking heads in the muggy aftermath.
Suffering from a bad case of opening-day dropsies and out of sync from the get-go, the Rams paid for a preseason of injury-induced inactivity, losing sloppily to Green Bay, 36-24.
"We just put the stake out there, and they hammered it into us," quarterback Jim Everett said.
No, nobody was quite ready to bring up that Bring on the 49ers ! chant. In fact, bringing on Tampa Bay, the Rams' next opponent and 38-21 victors over the Detroit Lions, seems an arduous task at this moment.
The Rams fumbled five times, losing three; were intercepted twice; piled up only two first downs in an embarrassing 19-minute span in the second half and yielded 248 passing yards and three touchdowns to Packer quarterback Anthony Dilweg in his first NFL start. He started because aDon Majkowski ended his 45-day holdout only last week and was deemed rusty.
Receiver Henry Ellard, feeling the effects of a preseason of extremely limited action because of a hamstring problem, had a nightmare of a day: three fumbles--two recovered by the Packers--on three consecutive second-half receptions.
"We just are not the football team that we would like to be at this point," Ram Coach John Robinson said, suggesting it would take time to overcome the slew of defensive injuries that hit the team in the preseason. "I don't have to tell you we self-destructed time and time again."
In a spree of mistakes that began in the third quarter and lasted all the way until their second possession of the fourth, Ram receivers fumbled the ball to Green Bay three times, literally and figuratively handing the game to the Pack.
By the time Ellard had lost two fumbles and tight end Pete Holohan had lost one, the Packers had piled up a 33-17 fourth-quarter lead, and the Rams were busy trying to work that famous 11-minute drill to get back into it.
It did not work.
"I thought the third quarter was a travesty," Robinson said. "It's just a question of our football team as a whole having to get to work and make up for some time that we lost--get ourselves to the point where we're the kind of football team that I think we will be at some point this year."
The Rams were a team of fits and false-starts yesterday, inconsistent both offensively and defensively.
At halftime, Green Bay led, 17-14, and Rams were showing signs that they were ready to begin playing like Super Bowl contenders.
The Rams put their second possession of the game into the end zone on a nifty, six-yard touchdown run by Curt Warner for a 7-0 lead, then began struggling offensively.
"In the beginning, we were a little out of sync," said Everett, who was 24 for 40 for 340 yards, and who has had an infinitesimal amount of practice time with his top three receivers because of their hamstring problems. "We weren't playing precise football."
Green Bay took advantage of a Mark Murphy interception of an Everett pass to tie it in the second quarter, then scored 10 points on their next two possessions as Dilweg methodically moved the offense against the banged-up, blitzing Ram defense.
"We didn't do enough things to force him to make mistakes," Ram linebacker Mike Wilcher said of Dilweg.
After a trade of touchdowns, including a 40-yard strike from Everett to Flipper Anderson, in stride and in the end zone, Green Bay led, 17-14, and the Rams looked in sync, rather than like they were going down the drain.
"We knew it would come and it did," Everett said. The feeling, however, was temporary.
When the third quarter hit, the roof caved in on the Rams' opportunity to start off the season 1-0.
The second-half miscues, gaining momentum like a snowball rolling down a steep hill, went this way:
Six plays after receiving the second-half kickoff, Holohan fumbled after catching a short pass from Everett, and Green Bay took over at the Ram 42.
After the Packers failed to convert and punted, Ellard hauled in an Everett pass for big yardage, then lost the ball to cornerback Jerry Holmes and Green Bay took over at the Ram 41.
After Green Bay again punted, Ellard lost a first down after fumbling a pass out of bounds. Two plays later, he juggled and dropped a slightly mis-thrown Everett third-down pass that would have been a first down. After the Rams punted, Green Bay scored on a 53-yard Chris Jacke field goal for a 20-14 lead.
In the early stages of the fourth quarter, after the Rams drove to a 41-yard field goal by Mike Lansford, and Green Bay answered with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, Ellard caught another Everett pass, was stripped by Lee and lost another ball to Holmes--Ellard's third fumble of the day.
This time, Holmes picked it up and went 33 yards to the Ram four-yard line. One Ram penalty later, Packer running back Brent Fullwood scored from two yards out, and it was 33-17 with a bit more than 11 minutes left--pretty much over and out.
"I may have fumbled three times before," said Ellard, "(but) not in one game."
Said Robinson: "You've just got to be together on the practice field, and we've had some misfortune in that regard. And I think our receivers are still not 100% physically and, obviously, it showed.
"I felt like there were 10 passes at least where there was something awry either with the cut or the timing. And it had to be four that we fumbled."
After the fourth drop, it was desperation time.
The Rams, working out of a two-minute-drill offense with 11:03 left, scored a quick touchdown on their next series, with Everett going five for five for 65 yards on the drive. But the game was lost when Green Bay drove for another Jacke field goal.
The Rams juggled their offensive line before the game started, then had to do a little more juggling as the game worn on. Starting right tackle Jackie Slater (dislocated toe) was de-activated--along with tackle Joe Milinichik--forcing the Rams to move starting right guard Duval Love to Slater's position and rookie center Bern Brostek to right guard. Love's injury is not considered serious. Also on the Ram injury report: Linebacker Mike Wilcher (sprained knee), running back Buford McGee (lower back contusion) and cornerback Alfred Jackson (broken finger on his left hand). None of the injuries are believed to be serious. Jackson played in every nickel situation without apparent difficulty.