Rams coach Spagnuolo hopes for happy handshake in Week 3

Sunday, September 25, 2011
Rams wide receiver Danario Alexander catches a touchdown pass as Giants defensive back Michael Coe gets a hand in front of his face during the third quarter Monday in East Rutherford, N.J. (JULIO CORTEZ ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Steve Spagnuolo, who was smarting from a poor performance, barely broke stride for the obligatory postgame handshake after the St. Louis Rams' Monday night loss to the New York Giants. No matter that the hand was being extended by mentor Tom Coughlin.

After cooling down, Spagnuolo texted congratulations to the man whose vision ultimately led to Spagnuolo's first NFL coaching job. Spagnuolo made his name as the Giants defensive coordinator who shut down the seemingly unstoppable New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl.

"The immediate moment after, it's hard, and he understands that," Spagnuolo said. "Even when he texted back, he said, 'Steve, I appreciate it. I know you're hurting right now.'

"And he had a couple of nice things to say."

Game 3 is Spagnuolo's third consecutive matchup to open the season with an all-too-familiar face on the other side of the field. Eagles coach Andy Reid gave Spagnuolo his first NFL job in 2000 before schooling him with a team aspiring to a Super Bowl run in the opener. Now comes Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who was a fellow assistant coach in Philadelphia.

"There is no finer person," Spagnuolo said. "I consider him family. He's like a brother to me. I go to him for advice and vice versa."

The rest of the way, they're all enemies, Spagnuolo joked. Win or lose, he won't have to worry about being too wound up to have a sincere chat with his opposite number at midfield after today.

"Yeah, I'm getting them all out of the way early," Spagnuolo said jokingly. "No more friends after this."

Maybe this week, too, there'll be no consoling remarks from another old pal.

The Rams are 0-2 for the fifth consecutive year, quickly exposing the irrelevancy of a perfect preseason, with most of the woes on an offense directed by Sam Bradford that has mustered two touchdowns in 10 trips inside the 20. They couldn't keep up with the Eagles in the second half and were doomed by an offense that piled up yards but stalled when it really counted, settling for chip-shot field goals on three trips inside the 10 on Monday.

"Definitely very frustrating," Rams wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker said. "You've got to get in the end zone, no matter what."

Harbaugh also had one of those grit-your-teeth handshakes last week after the Ravens (1-1), who opened with an impressive victory over the Steelers, absorbed a 13-point loss to the Titans in Week 2.

It was their first double-digit setback since December 2009.

"You come back in here and it's an empty feeling. It's gut-wrenching," Harbaugh said. "But you put the emotions aside and you go to work. And that's what our guys have done."

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco anticipated criticism after the Ravens experienced a letdown after their strong opener. He threw two interceptions in the loss to the Titans.

"Hey, it happens. That's what you guys are here for, to criticize, make judgments on how we played," Flacco said to reporters. "The Super Bowl champion is not decided after Week 2.

"It's not decided after Week 1, just like everybody wanted to react to that. We have a long way ahead of us."

Several Ravens watched the Monday night game, getting in a bit of advanced scouting. Flacco was among them.

"I'm going to watch the game anyway," Flacco said. "Anytime you get a team on a short week, I think it definitely is a little bit of an advantage in the NFL. We'll take that when we can get it."

The Ravens' defense also was off its game in Week 2, forcing one turnover after setting a franchise record with seven against the Steelers. They had no sacks and gave up 358 yards passing.

The franchise highlight this week was All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's new contract.

"We can be a dominant defense in a lot of ways because he's that presence in the middle," Harbaugh said. "They always say you want to be strong up the middle, and we're pretty strong up the middle."

Rams running back Steven Jackson missed last week's game with a strained right quadriceps and could miss the Ravens game, too, leaving Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood. Top wide receiver Danny Amendola likely is out a second game with a dislocated left elbow, and outside linebacker Ben Leber (groin) also has injury issues.

The Ravens have injury woes, too. Kick returner David Reed is out at least three weeks with a strained left shoulder. Wide receiver Lee Evans (ankle) and cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who is returning from knee surgery, are not at full strength. Cornerback Chris Carr (thigh) was limited in practice earlier in the week, while guard Ben Grubbs (toe) did not practice earlier in the week.

"Sometimes, as a coach, you have to say, 'You know what? Let's get this thing right, get you healthy so you can come back and play at your very best,'" Harbaugh said. "And that's where we are with some of those guys right now. They may step up this week because they've been getting rehab all along, and they may feel good, and they may be able to go. But they may not."

The Rams were effective especially early running a no-huddle offense, gaining 89 yards on nine plays during their opening possession and 67 yards on 10 plays on the second possession. Both times they stalled inside the 10, leading to increased emphasis on red zone efficiency during the week.

"It's something they've done both games so far, and they've done it really well," Harbaugh said. "So the ability just to get the communication done and get lined up, all those things are going to be really important."

Baltimore stuffed Chris Johnson but was porous against the pass last week. The run game stalled on offense.

It's a new week. A chance for the Rams to put it together for the first time and an opportunity for the Ravens to reassert themselves.

Whether or not Jackson plays, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is gearing up for the challenge.

"He's a real animal. I want to call him because he plays the game almost like a linebacker at the running back position," Lewis said. "And our front seven is definitely always up for the task."

Since the current playoff format began in 1990, only 22 teams have made the postseason after losing their first two games. Safety Quintin Mikell was a rookie on the 2003 Eagles team that began 0-2 and made it to the NFC championship game, and he's just as optimistic about St. Louis' chances as he was before the season began.

"We need people to stick with us," Mikell said. "Don't jump ship on us. We've got a good team. We're putting this thing together."

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