By Bernie Miklasz
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Dec. 12 2004

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - For some athletes, the legs are the first to go as the aging
process sets in. For Rams quarterback Chris Chandler, 39, apparently it's the
eyes. Chandler's vision seemed awfully blurred on Sunday in Carolina. He kept
throwing the football to the wrong team.

The Panthers intercepted Chandler six times in their 20-7 victory over the
visiting Rams.

Repeat: Six INTs . . .

"It kind of snowballed a little bit," Chandler said.

More like an avalanche.

Chandler needed glasses, or even a pair of binoculars, to distinguish the Rams
from the Panthers. The final tally was close; at least Rams receivers Torry
Holt and Isaac Bruce caught nine of Chandler's passes, or three more than
Carolina.

Six interceptions . . .

At Bank of America Stadium, Chandler was an ATM for the Carolina defense. When
in need, the Panthers just punched the digits 1 and 2 for a passcode - Chandler
wears No. 12 - and he'd spit out another interception. He was instant cash for
Carolina all day. Chandler was the gift that kept on giving during this blessed
holiday season.

Six interceptions . . .

This was Marc Bulger's finest day as a Rams quarterback. No, he has a bruised
shoulder and didn't play. But at least now some spoiled Rams fans should
realize Bulger isn't the worst QB in the history of Western Civilization, after
all.

Chandler's pick-six special was the worst performance by an old Rams
quarterback since Joe Namath finished his career with the 1977 Los Angeles
Rams. Namath could barely walk at the end, but at least he could see well
enough to establish, say, each team's colors.

Then again, Namath didn't have to play behind this particular Rams offensive
line. Chandler won't last long. This treatment of Chandler, the league's oldest
starting QB, might prompt a protest by the American Association of Retired
Persons (AARP) at Rams Park.

And gee, isn't it good that Mike Martz dumped Kurt Warner and signed Chris
Chandler to serve as the No. 2 quarterback? Martz grew tired of Warner's
turnovers and tendency to hold onto the ball for too long and take sacks. So he
cut Warner loose.

Warner experienced some bad days during his decline, but he never was picked
off six times in a game. Warner is a humble man, but who could blame him for
smiling a little when he hears about Chandler's by-interception-only party for
the Panthers? And if Kurt isn't laughing, Brenda probably is.

"I can take all the blame for this one," Chandler said.

Most of it, anyway.

After getting jolted early, the Rams defense played with resolve and turned the
Panthers away, limiting Carolina's scoring to a pair of field goals over the
final three quarters. It was a gutsy effort by a unit that seems to be
improving. And halfback Arlen Harris lacks speed, but he runs hard to the hole,
and he doesn't go down without a wrestle. Harris earned respect along with his
61 tough yards rushing.

If anything, Martz should have pounded away more with Harris. The Rams were
softening the Carolina defense in the second half, with Harris repeatedly
breaking tackles for extra yards. But then the Rams got greedy, tried to wing
it, and Chandler donated two more INTs to the Panthers' playoff-drive
charitable foundation.

Martz also had a chance to try for field goals twice in this game, but got
burned on alternative, more-aggressive strategies. Chandler was intercepted in
the end zone on the final play of the first half, and Harris was stuffed for a
1-yard loss on a fourth-down gamble at the Carolina 27.

It was more of the same. Martz needs to be more conservative, especially on the
road, with this offense, but he's still coaching as if it's 1999 or 2001, and
he has Warner, Marshall Faulk, Bruce and Holt at peak levels.

The Rams are 1-7 in non-division games this season and are a minus-17 in the
turnover differential in those games. They are 0-5 in non-division road games,
with a minus-14 turnover ratio. With that type of clumsy ball-handling, the
Rams need to kick field goals, chip away, hang close. The "Greatest Show" days
are over, but not to Martz.

Martz will use Chandler again on Sunday in Arizona.

What are his options?

Martz could ask Bulger to try and throw lefthanded.

Martz could throw rookie Jeff Smoker to the coyotes out in the Arizona desert.
How could Smoker do any worse than six INTs?

Martz could revive Jamie Martin, who might be covered in more cobwebs than
Chandler.

Martz could sign Paul Justin, Kirk Farmer, Scott Covington, Steve Bono, Steve
Walsh, Will Furrer.

Is it time for ... Tony Banks? We can only dream, but Banks is employed by the
Houston Texans.

Or perhaps Martz should scale back a playbook that's the size of a Manhattan
phone book. After the game, Martz said Chandler erred by trying to play QB
based on how he's played it in the past with other teams. Martz said the Rams
do things differently with their QBs - insisting on a firm progression of how
to read the defense, throwing the ball on timing routes, to spots instead of
receivers, etc. It clicks with a QB who knows the Martz system, and Chandler
doesn't. Smoker doesn't. Martin knows it for the most part, but his physical
skills have eroded.

Kurt Warner knows the Martz offense - cold - but he's living in exile, in New
York. And he's probably resisting the urge to snicker.