By Jeff Gordon
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
12/12/2004
Rams coach Mike Martz was determined to play “fast and furious” offensive football Sunday. He held nothing back with his ambitious game plan.

Mad Mike apparently forgot that ancient Chris Chandler was running his attack in place of injured quarterback Marc Bulger. He was also on the road, matched up against a strong, well-coached, highly motivated defensive team.

He didn’t have top running backs Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson. He also had greenhorn right tackle Blaine Saipaia matched against Panthers elite pass rusher Julius Peppers.

So the results were predictable -- the creaking Chandler threw six--SIX!--interceptions as the Rams lost 20-7 at Carolina.

The Panthers knocked the Rams, 6-7, out of the NFC West lead while enhancing their own wild-card playoff hopes. (Seattle regained the NFC West lead with a spirited 27-23 victory at Minnesota.)

Along the way, the Rams also lost defensive end Leonard Little, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and cornerback Travis Fisher, their defensive catalysts, for significant stretches due to illness and injury.

The injury-riddled Rams competed hard in this game. But they just didn’t have enough to beat the resurgent Panthers on the road, not with the unfortunate Chandler running the show.

We hate to say “we told you so” about Chandler, but, hey, we told you so. Martz should have hired a contemporary quarterback to back up Bulger this season.


THE GOOD

* Defensive end Bryce Fisher sacked Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme for a 10-yard loss on the Rams’ first defensive play.

* Chandler’s highlight of the game late in the first quarter, when he launched a 75-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt to cut Carolina’s lead to 14-7.

* Fisher raced in to score his second sack of the game on the first play of the second quarter.

* With a crunching hit on a third-down pass to Muhsin Muhammad, safety Antuan Edwards broke up the play and forced the Panthers to settle for a second-quarter field goal.

* Running back Arlen Harris managed to bust some moves on his 22-yard pass reception.

* Cornerback Jerametrius Butler broke up a would-be touchdown to Muhammad in the finals of the first half, playing the fade route perfectly.

* Harris did a nice job running the ball in the third quarter, breaking runs of nine, 14 and six yards to FINALLY established a ground game.

* The Rams defense, in turn, stuffed Delhomme on a fourth-and-inches quarterback sneak to turn the ball back over on downs. Give linebacker Robert Thomas much of the credit for thwarting that play.

* Butler made a nifty interception, his fifth of the season, to keep the Rams alive in fourth quarter. It’s too bad the Rams had no offense in this game.


THE BAD

* It took less than two minutes for Peppers to beat Saipaia and sack Chandler.

* Delhomme strafed the Rams defense for three big completions on Carolina’s first position, including a 14-yard touchdown to Muhammad after a nifty scramble.

* Chandler got dumped on the second Rams possession, too, this time by Kindal Moorehead.

* The Rams chased Delhomme around a bit on Carolina’s second possession, but he still moved the Panthers 69 yards for their second touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

* Kicker Jeff Wilkins had to play safety and join the tackling as Brandon Bennett broke a 43-yard kickoff return at the end of the first quarter.

* Linebacker Tommy Polley took a silly personal foul penalty early in the second quarter, helping Carolina move back into Rams territory.

* Receiver Kevin Curtis dropped what should have been a first-down reception early in the second quarter.

* Moorehead sacked Chandler again late in the second quarter.

* A holding penalty on guard Adam Timmerman in the third quarter wiped out a Chandler-to-Isaac Bruce touchdown pass. (But Timmerman prevented a sack, so don’t blame him for the lost TD.)

* Martz gambled on fourth-and-one, going for the first down instead of banking three points. And it backfired, when Harris got stuffed on his eighth consecutive run. Apparently the Panthers were NOT fooled.


THE UGLY

* With the Rams moving into scoring position, Chandler scrambled, then flipped an ill-advised pass off his back foot and was intercepted by Ricky Manning Jr.

* Chandler threw a strike to wide open Panthers linebacker Will Witherspoon, who returned the interception to the Rams 11. That led to John Kasay’s 20-yard field goal and a 20-7 Carolina lead.

* Chandler located Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble in the end zone for his third first-half interception. Yikes!

* Punt returner Shaun McDonald muffed a third quarter punt, handing the Panthers still another scoring opportunity on the Rams 20. Fortunately for the Rams, Carolina didn’t convert.

* Manning picked off his second pass of the game, gathering in a tipped pass. Fortunately for the Rams, Manning also fumbled the ball away on the return (poked free by Curtis) and the Rams got the ball back.

* With 8 minutes, 50 seconds left in the game, Chandler fired his fifth interception of the game directly to linebacker Dan Morgan. The dude was just sitting on a slant pass toward Holt.

* Chandler’s sixth interception, right to Morgan again, came on a jarred throw. What a debacle!



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