ST. LOUIS — James Hall goes for the strip and gets nothing. Donnie Jones needs 10 yards on a fake punt and gets 9.
Two big whiffs in another dispiriting loss Saturday that has put the lowly St. Louis Rams in the running for the No. 1 overall draft pick for the second time in three seasons.
The Rams (2-13) and Colts are tied for the NFL's worst record heading into the final week of the season. St. Louis hosts NFC West champion San Francisco. If Indianapolis wins at Jacksonville (4-11) and the Rams drop their seventh in a row, St. Louis gets the top pick.
The season finale could also signal the end for coach Steve Spagnuolo, who is 10-37 in three years at the helm. The roster has been devastated by injuries, with the top four cornerbacks on injured reserve, three offensive linemen also out for the year and quarterback Sam Bradford missing five starts with a high left ankle sprain — but St. Louis played poorly when healthy, too.
The NFL's worst offense has just 15 touchdowns, is averaging 11 points per game and ranks last in third-down efficiency. St. Louis needs nine points this week to match the meager total of 175 from Spagnuolo's first season in 2009, a 1-15 campaign that led to Sam Bradford being drafted with the top pick
The defense is last against the run after yielding 169 yards and a 6-yard average per carry to Rashard Mendenhall and the Steelers in a 27-0 defeat Saturday.
St. Louis has the league's worst kicker, too. Josh Brown is 19 for 26 on field goals and missed a chip shot 33-yarder against Pittsburgh.
Spagnuolo sounded hopeful on Monday, saying it would be nice to finish with a victory to give the franchise some momentum going into the offseason. The last time that happened was 2006, when St. Louis finished with three straight wins for an 8-8 record.
"There is something to winning the last game in my opinion, whether you're moving on to the playoffs or not," Spagnuolo said. "I think it carries you.
"One of the most rewarding things in this business is the locker room at the end of a win."
Spagnuolo said owner Stan Kroenke had not given him an indication where he stood. A spokesman for Kroenke has not responded to repeated requests for comment by the AP.
"And those conversations wouldn't happen anyway, so it's nothing out of the ordinary," Spagnuolo said. "That's nothing different."
Spagnuolo said he enjoyed spending time with his wife, Maria, on Christmas. He wouldn't say if he also spent time at Rams Park searching for answers, jokingly issuing his first no-comment of the season.
Hall was poised to ride Charlie Batch to the turf and poke the ball loose on the Steelers' second snap of the game, but tried to tackle Batch high. The quarterback ducked just in time, then got free for a 35-yard pass to Mendenhall that put the ball on the St. Louis 37. Instead of third-and-long, the Steelers ended up with a field goal.
With his team down 3-0 midway through the second quarter, Spagnuolo called for a fake punt and pass on fourth-and-10 from the Steelers 44. Jones took off after deciding no one was open and was tackled 1 yard shy of the first down.
Even though the Steelers didn't score on the ensuing possession, it was a crucial setback for an offense starving for points. The Rams have been shut out two of the last four games, also losing 26-0 at San Francisco in Week 12.
Spagnuolo gave Brown a pass on the 52-yard attempt that was wide left to end the first half, but not the 33-yarder early in the fourth quarter. If Brown makes those two, the Rams are down just 13-6 and the game is up for grabs.
Spagnuolo elected not to give Brown a third try at the end of the game when the Rams were at the Pittsburgh 23, allowing the final 30 seconds to run out. Instead of playing to the finish, Spagnuolo handed the Steelers a shutout.
"I mean, the game was over," Spagnuolo said. "That did not cross my mind."
One positive heading into the finale is the injury list isn't as bad as in recent weeks, aside from the loss of yet another cornerback. Justin King, who has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, was ruled out for the finale and the team thinks he'll need surgery.
The top four cornerbacks to open the season are out for the year, and a fifth potential heavy contributor, Jerome Murphy, was knocked out in the preseason. The Rams have compensated for all those losses by playing as many as four safeties at a time.
Spagnuolo said he hadn't spoken with Bradford, who has insisted he wants to play whenever he's able.
"We know we're dealing with a competitive guy and all I can say is we'll take it day by day and we'll be smart with it," Spagnuolo said.