ST. LOUIS -- The first 13 weeks of this St. Louis Rams season drew our eyes to the horizon.
They were all about the expanding long-term possibilities.
With rookie quarterback Sam Bradford emerging by the week, it was natural to envision the Rams (6-8) dominating NFC West play for years to come and delivering Super Bowl titles to the heartland.
The past two weeks, punctuated Sunday with a dispiriting 27-13 home defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs, have brought the Rams face to face with their short-term limitations.
It's been a painful exercise, especially for running back Steven Jackson, the proudest Ram. But nothing substantive about this team has changed. The Rams remain in their formative stages. They also remain in prime position to earn a playoff berth.
That last part was sometimes difficult to see Sunday.
Chiefs fans outnumbered Rams fans in some parts of the Edward Jones Dome. They chanted derisively, baited the Rams into false starts and unleashed tomahawk chops during the game's final excruciating moments, when most Rams fans had already departed.
Afterward, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo seemed to grasp the bigger picture. He pointed ahead to the Rams' home date with the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16, declaring that the team was entering playoff mode for the final two weeks.
"We should have been in playoff mode today," Jackson snapped when a reporter apprised him of Spagnuolo's outlook.
Jackson and Spagnuolo were both right.
The Rams were indeed horrible Sunday. They should have been better.
Billy Bajema, Jason Smith, Jerome Murphy, Jason Brown and Rodger Saffold committed false-start penalties. Laurent Robinson and Daniel Fells dropped passes. Bradford felt the Chiefs' pressure and missed a few throws as a result. The Rams couldn't get enough pressure on Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who defied concerns about his recent appendectomy by charging through the Rams' defense with daring scrambles.
"The bottom line is we just didn't play good enough football to get the job done, and it's unacceptable," Rams receiver Danny Amendola said.
There's one more line beneath that one. It reads: The Rams aren't talented enough on offense, even with Bradford, to keep pace with good teams on the scoreboard.
Every NFL team needs third and fourth wide receivers. The Rams suited up four of them Sunday.
Every team needs backup tight ends. St. Louis suited up three of those, too.
The Rams are leaning too heavily on role players. They need more raw talent at receiver and tight end.
This team lacks firepower.
"I won't say it that way," Spagnuolo said, "but I just think when there is pressure on the quarterback, if you look at it from the defensive side, somebody defensively is winning up front and somebody on the back end is covering pretty good. From an offensive standpoint, you have to find a way to uncover quicker -- because I know the quarterback we have will get rid of the ball quick enough."
Time and again, Bradford dropped back to pass, surveyed his options and settled on "none of the above" for his answer. Bradford once even settled for a 3-yard scramble on third-and-7 when it was obvious there was no chance he would reach the first-down marker.
The Chiefs loaded up against the run, daring the Rams to make a play in the passing game.
"If we see single high safety, we're getting one-on-ones outside," Bradford said. "That's really when things in our passing game should open up, so as a quarterback, you love to see single high."
The Rams can expect to see more of the same in their final two games and certainly in the playoffs, should they qualify.
But the NFC West race should not distract the Rams' leadership from the games most important to their prospects -- those featuring top college talent. The college bowl season and upcoming all-star games should help the Rams find badly needed weapons for their promising young quarterback.
Bradford has no touchdowns and four interceptions in losses to New Orleans and Kansas City over the past two weeks. The Saints roughed up Bradford with well-executed blitzes. The Chiefs seemed to win one-on-one matchups against the Rams' offensive linemen. And when the Rams did have opportunities, they could not make plays anyone is likely to remember. They were outgunned.
"Well, in both games, yes, we did face teams that have a lot of offensive firepower, but in both games, we were in the game," Jackson said. "The scoreboard doesn't really reflect some of the opportunities that we had, especially this game. We had an opportunity to go up with a substantial lead and we didn't do so, and we allowed a team that does have an explosive offense with a great running game stick around. It bit us."
No doubt. The Rams drove downfield twice to open the Kansas City game, only to settle for field goals. Their third possession was plain ugly.
The Rams took over at the Kansas City 48 after cornerback Kevin Dockery picked off Cassel. Bradford found Amendola for a 7-yard gain on third-and-6, but a penalty against Smith, the right tackle, set up first-and-20.
What to do? The Rams helped the Chiefs' pass rush by removing any threat of a quick-hitting draw to Jackson. They left Amendola alone in the backfield on first down. They emptied the backfield entirely on third down, and Bradford took a sack.
"They did a good job disguising and mixing up zone and man," Bradford said. "It seems like we called crossing routes and they would be in (Cover) 3 and then we'd call a zone beater and they'd be in man. It was just a tough day."
We know the Rams can run Jackson up the middle for three or four yards. We know Bradford can throw accurately and make wise decisions most of the time. We also know the Rams aren't going to scare top teams with Robinson, Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson and Amendola as their primary weapons in the passing game.
The Chiefs' starting receivers, Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers, made timely plays Sunday.
The Rams had no answer. They need to get help for Bradford.
In the meantime, there's an NFC West title to claim -- if anybody wants it.