0-3 Niners provide Rams opportunity
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Oct. 02 2004

SAN FRANCISCO - The scene in the Edward Jones Dome wasn't pretty last Sunday as
the Rams walked off the field 28-25 overtime losers to New Orleans.

As coach Mike Martz approached the tunnel leading to the locker room area, fans
tossed debris his way. At least a couple of fans were gesturing wildly and
shouting in his direction. Suffice to say, they weren't shouting words of
encouragement.

Pro Bowl offensive guard Adam Timmerman happened to be within hearing range at
the time.

"I was thinking, 'I'm glad my kids weren't hearing that,'" he said. "I think
some fans just have to have some class."

As Martz left the dome, with wife Julie in the car, he was accosted by a couple
of passing motorists.

"I'm used to it," Martz said Monday, referring to hecklers in general. "They've
done that ever since I've been here, win or lose."

It doesn't bother him? "Not anymore," he said.

Whether it does or not, Sunday's postgame "events" are an indication that Rams
Nation is approaching full panic mode. And make no mistake, the players are
picking up that vibe when they're away from Rams Park.

"I have a pretty good feel for what everyone's feeling," quarterback Marc
Bulger said. "I don't like to watch TV or read the paper, but you don't really
need to. You can just tell by the fans' reaction.

"On the highway, in the grocery store, they just let you know how they feel.
People don't hold back. It's pretty funny. This is the only job, I think, that
they'll let you know exactly how they feel. But hey, it comes with the
territory, and I agree with it some of the time."

Wait a minute. On the highway?

"I haven't been run off the road yet," Bulger said, laughing. "So I've been
lucky so far."

Sometimes, the feedback is more subtle.

"You just hear some little comments, and you're like: 'Is that guy talking to
me? Does he know I can hear him from here?' " Timmerman said. "You'll hear
something like, 'Hey, good luck.' And then you'll kind of hear under their
breath - 'He's going to need it.' "

At 1-2, the winds of discontent may be howling. But not inside Rams Park.

"There is no shaken belief or trust, or anything like that," defensive lineman
Tyoka Jackson said. "None of that's wavering. All the storm is going on outside
the locker room.

"And it is storming. But we've got some really nice umbrellas. We'll take care
of that. Wins seem to clear the skies a lot - you know what I mean?"

Which brings us to Sunday night's game with rival San Francisco at the
newly-renamed Monster Park. The contest begins a stretch of three road games in
four contests for St. Louis. It also begins a stretch in which three of the
Rams' next four opponents are currently winless.

The ***** had their NFL-record 420-game scoring streak shattered last week in a
34-0 loss to Seattle. Almost all of the star power that graced this franchise
for the last quarter of a century has vanished, as if sucked into a Bay Area
fog. A loss to the Rams would give San Francisco its first 0-4 start since
1979, Bill Walsh's first season as ***** coach.

So this is not a game the Rams want to lose, or can afford to lose. Not with
the 3-0 Seahawks, resting comfortably this weekend with a bye, looming ahead on
the Rams' schedule Oct. 10 in Seattle.

"It's either 1-3 or 2-2, which seems like a light year's difference between
those two records at this point," Timmerman said. "So I think we know the
importance of the game. And I think it's important that we don't go out there
and just play tight." That's tight, as in uptight. All of which makes this
about as close to a must-win situation as you can get in Week 4.

"This is an important football game any way you slice it," safety Adam
Archuleta said. "A win gets us back on a number of (levels). It gets us back
confidence, No. 1. It gets us back to 2-2. It's a division game. It's the
*****. There's just a lot of things with this game that make it a must win."

The ***** have won the last two contests here against St. Louis in convincing
fashion - 30-10 last season and 37-13 in '03. But the Rams were depleted by
injuries in both of those contests. Last year, the Rams' defense was minus four
starters and running back Marshall Faulk was still one week away from returning
from hand and knee injuries.

"Usually, we're a little bit faster than them, and they're kind of reacting to
us," Timmerman said. "For some reason last year, they were setting the tempo as
far as speed. We definitely want to be the one setting the speed."

There is no Jeff Garcia, no Garrison Hearst and no Terrell Owens to fuel the
San Francisco offense this season. Defensively, the ***** still have some
speed, particularly in what is considered one of the NFL's best linebacking
corps. But one of the 'Niners top pass rushers - defensive end Andre Carter -
is expected to miss the game with a back injury, and the San Francisco
secondary is adequate at best.

So if the Rams lose Sunday night, it won't be because they are the
less-talented team. Of course, if the Rams lose Sunday night, they might want
to de-plane Monday morning at Lambert wearing disguises. It's getting that
strange out there.