Sam Bradford and Josh McDaniels were supposed to be a dream team, an innovator paired with last year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year that would enable the St. Louis Rams' offense to take flight.
Instead, it's been an endless string of fruitless Sundays for the puniest attack in the NFL. They're averaging 12 points per game, and have 10 touchdowns in 10 games entering Sunday's NFC West also-ran rematch against the Arizona Cardinals.
Four times, the Rams (2-8) have scored in single digits. Far off Bradford's expectations and nowhere near the career re-launching pad McDaniels sought after getting fired as Broncos coach last December.
The former boy wonder protege groomed by Bill Belichick has known only failure for some time now, and is coming off a game in which he seemingly outsmarted himself and ignored the Rams' strengths. McDaniels is under fire just as much as coach Steve Spagnuolo, just 10-32 in his third season.
"I'd lie to you if I said I wasn't very frustrated," McDaniels said. "We want to win. We work hard to try to do that and right now we're not getting the results that we want every week."
Bradford's slumped, defeated posture after the Rams managed 185 yards in last week's 24-7 loss to the Seahawks brought it all home. For several minutes, the quarterback sat in full uniform in front of his locker stall, alone with his thoughts.
By Wednesday, Bradford said he'd moved on.
The Cardinals (3-7) have won nine of the last 10 in the series, including six straight in St. Louis. They stunned them 19-13 in overtime earlier this month on Patrick Peterson's 99-yard punt return and could get quarterback Kevin Kolb back from a foot injury. So, no time to wallow.
"I've tried to take all that I could from that game and that experience," Bradford said. "Obviously, it wasn't a good one, but I think there were a lot of things that I learned from after watching the tape."
Bradford believes in the personnel, retains faith in the offense, and remains optimistic that something can be salvaged of this lost season. A week after practice squad call-up Kevin Hughes got schooled at tackle by the Seahawks, the Rams are likely to shuffle the line to make room for center Jason Brown, benched the past two weeks.
"I go into every game thinking that this is going to be the week for our offense to break out," the quarterback said. "I think that's why it's so frustrating, so disappointing for me when it doesn't work out, because I believe we have good stuff.
"I think when we go out there every Sunday that we're going to win and that we're going to put up big numbers."
McDaniels also put on a positive face.
"I think the best thing I can do for Sam Bradford is come out here and coach him hard and get him ready to play this week," McDaniels said. "Last week's last week and we have to move forward and he's got to do it too."
No doubt, there have been extenuating circumstances. Both tackles are out, and the top wide receiver was lost in the season opener.
But they're not the only team with injury woes, and they still have bell cow running back Steven Jackson and traded for a new go-to pass catcher in Brandon Lloyd.
And yet it's still a trickle of points instead of a flood.
Nowadays, the No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft doesn't look like such a sure thing, with just five touchdown passes. The Rams' big coaching upgrade this offseason looks like a bona fide bust.
McDaniels played a spread offense with an empty backfield to counter the Seahawks' strong defensive front last week, instead of using Jackson runs to open the passing game. Jackson lined up as a wide receiver all too often, a signal the Rams were going to be one-dimensional, and had only 42 yards on 15 carries to end a string of three straight games with 125 or more yards.
Instead of benefiting from the extra receiving options, Bradford appeared indecisive. He admitted to locking onto receivers, most often Lloyd.
"You've got to remind yourself to go through the progressions especially when he is the first receiver sometimes," Bradford said. "And sometimes you get stuck on him."
Six weeks to go and eliminated from the West, there's only one thing to do. Keep playing, keep coaching, keep negativity at bay.
"You can't throw your hands in the air," McDaniels said. "You've got to keep fighting and clawing and try to find a better way to do it"
Perhaps the best decision this week: Don't kick it to Peterson.
"We're going to do what we've got to do to make sure that it's not an issue," Spagnuolo said. "How's that?"
Coach Ken Whisenhunt recalls thinking "Oh no!" when Peterson fielded Donnie Jones' punt at the 1, an emotion that quickly changed to "Oh yeah!" as Peterson repeatedly escaped for his third punt return for touchdown.
"It just happened so fast, it's hard to really get a clear perception of where he actually caught it," Whisenhunt said. "But I'll take the touchdown over the 20-yard line from it going into the end zone just about any day."
Calais Campbell, whose blocked field goal forced overtime against the Rams, gives Arizona another huge special teams threat, plus he also had two sacks.
Kolb has been optimistic he'd be back from injuries to his right foot that have sidelined him for three games after taking a heavy practice load earlier in the week. John Skelton gave up two safeties against the Rams and was only 6 for 19 for 99 yards with three interceptions in last week's 23-7 loss to the 49ers.
Whoever's behind center, Larry Fitzgerald will be a big part of the Rams' defensive play. Fitzgerald had only four catches for 43 yards in the earlier matchup, but with a touchdown, though his receptions are down (48), his 17.4-yard average is the best of his career.
"Usually I've been a little bit more productive through this point of the season, but I'm able to make a few more plays down the field, which has been nice," Fitzgerald said. "Unfortunately, for us it hasn't equated to wins and that's really what you play the game for."
Both teams have been playing catch-up most of the year, the Cardinals getting outscored 54-23 in the first quarter and the Rams 65-23. St. Louis scored its first touchdown in the first quarter since opening day last week, before getting blanked the rest of the way.