ST. LOUIS — Losing in the final seconds at Detroit could have been another blow to the downtrodden St. Louis Rams and their beaten-down fan base.
It was actually a huge step forward.
The Rams lost for the 66th time in their past 81 games. But it has not dimmed their new-found competitive fire under first-year coach Jeff Fisher.
"Not saying we didn't enjoy last year, but everyone comes here ready to work and everyone has a positive attitude," wide receiver Brandon Gibson said. "We're here and we want to win games. Every week."
In 11 of their 14 losses last year, the Rams faced double-digit point deficits entering the fourth quarter. On Sunday, they actually had a fourth-quarter lead against a 10-win playoff team of 2011.
Broadcaster Steve Savard perhaps said it best on Sunday: "We are heading for relevant football in the fourth quarter. How often have we been able to say that?"
No doubt, it's a confidence-builder heading into the home opener Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Fisher said what impressed him most was the effort combined with positive attitude.
"They played as if they expected to win it," Fisher said. "And that's how you have to start and finish each game."
The Rams have significant injury issues on the offensive line, with center Scott Wells and his broken foot on injured reserve until Week 9, tackle Rodger Saffold carted off in the fourth quarter and hospitalized with a neck strain, and rookie Rokevious Watkins missing practice with an ankle injury Wednesday.
Saffold has made tremendous progress, getting limited duty Wednesday.
The Rams showed ball-hawking instincts on defense in the opener, intercepting Matthew Stafford three times, including a 31-yard runback for a touchdown by Cortland Finnegan for a 13-7 lead late in the first half. Before the Lions' final drive, perhaps significantly aided by a clock operator error that in essence handed Detroit an extra timeout, they'd done a very good job of containing.
Defensive end Chris Long said players "haven't given much thought" to what might have been. Instead of completing three passes over the middle, Stafford would have had to conserve time and work the sideline.
"What are you going to do?" Long said. "We could have done a lot of things to get off the field as a defense, too. There's so many things we could do in the course of the game to win it.
"You try to control the stuff you can control."
The offense overcame a pair of setbacks on the line, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter with a makeshift unit.
Robert Turner started at right guard ahead of fifth-round pick Watkins in the opener and moved to center after Wells was hurt. If available, Watkins is likely to get his first start at right guard this week against the Redskins after subbing at that position last week.
The unheralded Gibson, who emerged as a starter ahead of rookies Brian Quick and Chris Givens, had a showcase 23-yard touchdown reception for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
"I'm just out here playing the game, man. That's all," Gibson said. "I think I'm pretty well-rounded. I just want to make plays when my number's called."
Maybe this week.
"At the end of the day, we want to win," wide receiver Danny Amendola said. "We feel like we have guys in this locker room that can win games."
Moral victory? "No. Absolutely not."