By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
11/20/2005

Sunday's 38-28 loss to Arizona may not be the worst defeat suffered by the Rams in their 11 seasons in St. Louis. But it certainly ranks among the top 10.

"To lose in the way we lost, it's pretty embarrassing," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "And it really hurts. You can't describe how you feel right now."

Offensively, the Rams acted as if they had never seen a safety blitz before. Coordinator Steve Fairchild called only 12 running plays - just two in the second half - against Arizona's 25th-ranked rushing defense.

Defensively, the Rams' blitz couldn't get to Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner. And even though the Rams were blitzing, their corners played surprisingly soft in coverage.

"I can't believe how much cushion we're getting," one Arizona coach said en route to the locker room at halftime.

Neither could wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, who combined for 17 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Whenever the Rams blitzed, Warner took advantage of that cushion to throw short stuff and carve up the St. Louis secondary.

"I said this when he left us a few years ago, he'll come back in here and cook us one of these days," Rams center Andy McCollum said. "And it happened. I'm sorry that I was right."

Call it Kurt's Revenge. Despite losing a fumble on his fourth offensive play of the day, Warner's first game in St. Louis since his June 2003 release was a memorable one. He completed 27 of 39 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns, and a stellar passer rating of 115.9.

"They gave him the offense (Sunday)," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "They let him run the show. He ran what he saw."

In other words, Warner was allowed to do something he never got to do in St. Louis - audible. He did it a lot on Sunday, looking like an NFC version of Peyton Manning, with his pointing, hand signals, and gesturing at the line of scrimmage.

"I was shocked for a minute," Holt said. "I guess throughout the week of film study, they saw something that would work for them and they went to it.

"With Kurt, you've got to get to Kurt, and hit him and rattle him. And when you don't do that, he makes his money off of blitzes. He will tear your (rear end) up."

Which is basically what happened Sunday. As a result, the Rams fell to 4-6, losing for only the 12th time in their past 58 regular-season and postseason games at the Edward Jones Dome.

They will have to win all six of their remaining games to have any chance at a playoff game. Given the fact that they couldn't beat a 2-7 team at home Sunday, that looks like no chance at all.

Worse yet, the Rams probably will be without the services of quarterback Marc Bulger for the next several weeks. Bulger suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder when he was rocked on a sack late in the third quarter.

"Marc's shoulder looks to be OK so far," interim head coach Joe Vitt said. "So we'll have to wait and see."

By OK, Vitt simply meant that X-rays showed no broken bones. But further testing could determine whether Bulger has a separated shoulder. Even if it's "just" a sprained AC joint - the injury that Bulger suffered Oct. 17 in Indianapolis - he could be out several weeks. Bulger missed two games with that October injury, but also had the benefit of a bye week. Bulger also suffered a concussion Sunday.

"It's obvious when we lose Marc, it hurts us," Holt said. "Because he's the guy in this offense. He understands the offense. He puts the ball where we need for the ball to be put. So it's tough once he goes down. But Jamie (Martin) has been in this situation before, and he's won."

Bulger was matching Warner pass for pass before he suffered the injury. In fact, the Rams were leading 17-16 when Bulger was creamed by blitzing safety Adrian Wilson with 4 1/2 minutes to go in the third quarter.

Wilson finished with three sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.

"I asked after the game: 'Where was 24 (Wilson) coming from?'" Holt said. "It was like they were roping him up at the top of the roof, and when the ball was hiked they were dropping him right back there with Marc. It was happening that fast."

And it happened over and over again.

"It's not a new thing to bring the safety down (near the line of scrimmage)," offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. "But we didn't adjust, I guess, as well as we should have."

Besides being limited to six yards on 12 carries, running back Steven Jackson did not have a good day on blitz pickup. After Martin was crushed by linebacker Darryl Blackstock on a fourth-quarter blitz, resulting in a lost fumble, Jackson was replaced in the backfield by Arlen Harris.

Even after Bulger left, the Rams remained in position to win, or at least force overtime, late in the fourth quarter. But after a Martin-to-Holt pass resulted in no gain, Vitt opted for a Jeff Wilkins field goal rather than going for it on fourth-and-5 from the Arizona 14. The Rams trailed 24-17 prior to Wilkins' kick. The decision seemed curious because even after the kick made the score 24-20, the Rams still needed a TD to avoid a defeat.

"At that point in time, there's 3:58 left to go in the game," Vitt said. "We've got two timeouts left. Up to that point, we had played really good second-half defense. I'm thinking we're going for the win.

"We get the three points. We kick off, pin them down. They go three-and-out. We take our timeouts there, get the ball back to the offense with approximately 2:25, 2:35 left to go in the game. Plus the 2-minute warning. And now we're going for the game."

Uh, not even close.