By Howard Balzer
(KSDK Sports) -- After the St. Louis Rams lost to Arizona to drop to 5-8 and were officially eliminated from the playoffs, linebacker James Laurinaitis had a message for his teammates, especially the younger ones.
Laurinaitis emphasized the importance of finishing the season positively and striving for an 8-8 record.
Quarterback Kellen Clemens said then,
"I think that the veterans in this looker room will probably step up; we've already heard from some of them. We're going to go back to work. I think the thing that we want to see now going forward is finish; finish the season strong. We want to see improvement. We'll go back to work. We're eliminated, but we still have to play them. Let's go back to work on Monday, get better and try to win them."
The Rams have done just that, winning home games against New Orleans and Tampa Bay to nudge their record to one game away from a .500 record, something the franchise hasn't achieved since 2006.
Asked the importance of finishing 8-8, coach Jeff Fisher said, "We were close last year (7-8-1). It'd be great. It'd be a great way to go into the offseason, but I think overall what we've done over the last couple weeks against a very good opponent - in particular, two weeks ago - I think you can see the improvement. That's where we are. The guys, I heard them talking yesterday after the ball game that they've got a lot of games left. They don't want to stop playing. So, that ought to be a daily reminder as we push through the offseason."
Of course, it won't be easy getting to .500 with a road game at Seattle against a Seahawks team that is still trying to win the NFC West and earn home-field advantage through the playoffs.
Fisher said he likes the fact the game has high stakes for Seattle.
"Yeah, we'd much prefer that because, in a lot of ways, if it didn't and they locked up home field throughout and everything then you guys put the little asterisk by the win if that happens," he said. "We'd rather have it mean something."
After a Christmas Day practice, Fisher said of his team, "You can tell right now they're really excited. This is a meaningful game for the Seahawks and this is a meaningful game for us because it's our last one. So, they want to play well."
The Seahawks are coming off a home loss to Arizona, but they are still difficult to defeat at home. The loss to the Cardinals was their first at home since the 2011 season finale.
What makes it tough to play there? Said Fisher, "Obviously, it starts with the football team. They're a very, very good football team. Then, they've got a fan base that never sits down. They stand up for three and a half hours and make noise. So, it's hard to hear and hard to communicate."
With Fisher as coach the last two seasons, the Rams are 1-2 against Seattle, but the two losses were at Seattle last year 20-13 and earlier this season at home in Clemens' first start, 14-9. The Rams won at home in 2012, 19-13.
Fisher said the Rams have been able to play Seattle tough because "I think there's matchups. You have to have speed up front on defense to match (quarterback) Russell's (Wilson) speed and we can do that, but every game's different. You can look back and say they were close, but the matchups are the same, but the games are different. We can't go up there thinking, well we played them close the last few times we played them, so expect to go in there and play them close again. You have to actually go in there and execute."
Howard Balzer will be contributing to KSDK Sports throughout the 2013 NFL season. Howard hosts "H and Friends" Monday-Friday from 9-11 on Fox Sports 1490 The Champ. He is also a host on SiriusXM NFL Radio and one of 44 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.