FOXBOROUGH - St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson couldn't pinpoint a low point during the Rams' 0-4 start to this season. Maybe that's because there were so many of them.
How about trailing Philadelphia, 38-0, in an eventual 38-3 blowout, or watching the Giants score 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points in a 41-13 loss? What about allowing 245 yards rushing and three touchdowns to the Seahawks in a 37-13 setback, or leading Buffalo, 14-6, at the half at home in Week 4, only to get outscored, 25-0, in the second half?
Those competing nadirs seem like distant memories now for St. Louis, which comes to Foxborough today to face the Patriots as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Since interim head coach Jim Haslett replaced Scott Linehan the day after the Buffalo debacle, the Rams have ripped off consecutive wins over the Redskins (19-14) and the Tony Romo-less Cowboys (34-14), and despair has been replaced with defiance.
When Jackson, the Rams' leading rusher (508 yards on 121 carries) and receiver (25 receptions for 259 yards), was asked what a confidence boost the win over Dallas must have been, he talked about his own team's talent level.
When pressed for a better answer, he responded, "We're talented, too. I don't know if you heard me."
Even with Jackson questionable for today with a quadriceps injury, this isn't a "gimme" game for a Patriots team that is riding high after a 41-7 beatdown of the Broncos. New England has lost safety Rodney Harrison for the season and is thinner than Kate Moss at running back.
"You can't just show up one [game]. The challenge is out there again," said Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas. "[They've been] totally different since Haslett has taken over. Jackson running the ball and catching the ball well, going deep, with [Donnie] Avery, [Torry] Holt. We definitely have our task cut out for us."
That was what Haslett had when he took over the 0-4 Rams.
But turning the Rams around was not the toughest challenge Haslett ever has been presented with. Haslett was the coach in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city and displaced the Saints in 2005. The team had to move its operations to San Antonio and split its home games between that city and Baton Rouge.
"This is easy compared to that," Haslett said. "Taking over a team that's 0-4 is a lot easier than the things we went through there. I don't have enough time right now on the phone to describe what I went through with the players and the hurricane and the loss of families and lives and homes, but it was something you hope no one ever has to go through again, I promise you that."
Haslett has imparted that message about true adversity to his team.
"We competed in all four games, but at some point we let it get away from us," said Jackson. "Then guys kind of got down in the dumps. Now when we hit adversity in a game, you can see guys fighting through it. I think that's the difference between these last two games and the first four."
That and a steady hand. Linehan had benched quarterback Marc Bulger in favor of Trent Green for the Buffalo game, a move that Haslett immediately reversed when he took over. Jackson said Linehan didn't lose the team with the QB switch, but he also couldn't explain why they lost with him.
"To be honest with you, I don't know," said Jackson. "It's a funny situation. You hate that someone had to lose their job. You hate that anyone has to take the blame for all 53 men and the coaching staff on top of that for losing.
"But after the bye, I think a lot of guys took that week off, really took a step away from football and kind of renewed their love for it, and said that we can either turn this thing around or have a rough 12-game stretch.
"Going through a 3-13 season [last year], that's something a lot of guys around here didn't want to do again. We still have a long way to go to fully say that we turned the ship around, but we started off well."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he already has seen Haslett's imprimatur on the Rams, citing a turnaround in the turnover differential. In its first four games, St. Louis turned the ball over five times and had just two takeaways. In the last two, the Rams have collected seven turnovers, including four last week against the Cowboys (three interceptions) and lost the ball just once.
Haslett wouldn't take the credit for those plays, just as he wouldn't take the credit for the Rams' revival.
"I just think more than anything [it's] just the players wanting to get the job done," he said. "They've been practicing well and they've been into it, and we just tried to get them to understand that we're not as bad a team as everybody thought. You just have to try to do things right."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.