Monday, October 9, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. – As cornerback Ron Bartell hobbled to the sideline with a strained calf, he couldn’t help but be frustrated about his not getting to finish the game.

After Sunday’s 23-20 win against the Packers, Bartell looked back and laughed about the injury that he says was caused by an increased workload.

“There was a lot of action, I’m not used to all that action,” Bartell said, laughing.

Count Bartell among the many defensive backs the Rams were forced to use against the Packers because of a variety of injuries and freak incidents. Fortunately for the Rams, they didn’t run out of defensive backs.

During the week, starting corner Fakhir Brown battled an ankle injury that left his status for Sunday’s game uncertain. Brown tested the ankle before the game, but it was determined that he wouldn’t be able to start.

That left the coaching staff with a decision of whether to leave Brown active as a reserve or call on Jerametrius Butler for his first action of the season. Coach Scott Linehan and Co. chose the latter, a move that paid huge dividends as the game went on.

With Brown out, the Rams started rookie Tye Hill and Travis Fisher on the outside. Fisher, who was struggling with a groin injury all week, apparently was also a game time decision. But Fisher practiced all week and was able to loosen up enough before the game to get the start.

It turned out that Fisher was unable to finish the game as he tweaked the injury. He exited in the second quarter and Ron Bartell took over in his place. Bartell, who had played most of this season on special teams, got his first opportunity on defense and performed well before straining his calf.

All of a sudden, Butler, who had been inactive for the first four games of the year, found himself on the field. Earlier in the week, Linehan had preached the value of having depth and players like Butler ready at all times.

There was no better example of that than Sunday. With the game on the line and the Packers deep in St. Louis territory, defensive end Leonard Little jarred the ball loose from quarterback Brett Favre’s right hand. After the ball skipped away from Little and squirted out of the grasp of Packers lineman Daryn Colledge, Butler fell on the ball to preserve the victory. It was just another in a line of key defensive plays at the most important of times for a defense making a habit of creating unlikely heroes.

“When those guys aren’t healthy, I have to go out there and prove each week that I can go make plays,” Butler said. “It doesn’t matter who steps in. Ron stepped in and he made plays. He started cramping up and they called my number. That’s how it is.”

But there’s no doubting it was extra sweet for the former starter to help the Rams to victory after spending the first month of the season in street clothes.

“I am very happy for him,” Linehan said. “It ended up being JB out there and it worked out good for all of us. You need the depth as you go through the season. I think he’s a great example as a number of guys have been filling in for injured guys this year.”

UNPICKED: Quarterback Marc Bulger set a franchise record for consecutive passing attempts without an interception after his 28 attempts gave him 214 straight tries without a pick.

Linehan said Bulger, who posted a rating of 112.2, is doing everything he could hope for from his quarterback.

“Marc is playing smart,” Linehan said. “He’s playing good. He’s an NFL quarterback. He’s doing exactly what we expected out of him. He’s good with the ball; he’s directing the running game, using the clock. I’m just really happy with him/ we talk about it all the time. They don’t really evaluate you by your stats in this league. You get evaluated by how you play and, the matter of fact is, your win loss record. He’s putting us in the best position at this point to win.”

While Bulger doesn’t want to jinx his streak of attempts without a pick, he realizes that sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

For the most part, Bulger has done an excellent job of hitting a receiver in a spot where it will be a completion or nothing. But every once in a while, luck has to be involved.

In fact, on his 20th attempt, which was his 206th tying him with Roman Gabriel for the team record, Bulger hit Green Bay cornerback Al Harris in the hands. Harris simply dropped the ball.

“It’s nice,” Bulger said. “But I have been fortunate a couple of times, even today so if you are going to have that many in a row in the NFL you are going to get some breaks. Unfortunately. I will probably throw a ball and hit a guy in the facemask and that’s how it will happen. You can’t worry about it. You have to protect the ball and play it safe.”

PACE PLAYS: After sitting out last week while recovering from a concussion suffered on Sept. 17 against San Francisco, left tackle Orlando Pace returned to the lineup against the Packers on Sunday.

Pace not only came back, but had the difficult assignment of blocking defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Pace helped keep Bulger clean for most of the game, holding Gbaja-Biamila to just a half sack and a single quarterback hurry.

“He played very well. KGB is someone you have to deal with every down and I think he did a good job,” Linehan said. “He looked and felt better today and he felt better after the game too. We are happy to have him back out there.”

BIG BEAR: While the Rams didn’t exactly spend all day in Favre’s face, there was one Ram who continued to show up in Green Bay’s backfield for most of the day. Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy made a number of plays in perhaps his best performance of the year.

In unofficial pressbox statistics, Kennedy had six tackles with a sack. He was credited in those statistics with a forced fumble, but Leonard Little actually forced the fumble.

Regardless, Kennedy had an important performance as he continues to recover from a broken hand.

“I think Jimmy played very well,” Linehan said. “He and I talked earlier in the week. He has such a high standard for how he wants to play. He decided to use his power and ability to get up the field. I saw a new spark in him.”

INJURY REPORT: Aside from Fisher, the Rams came out of Sunday’s game relatively healthy. At various points in the game, they had some players leave the field, but most of those players returned to the game.

Linebacker Will Witherspoon sprained his right ankle, but returned just a few plays later. Center Richie Incognito hobbled off the field at one point, but didn’t miss any plays.

Bartell reported having a strained calf after the game, but said after the game that he would be fine.

Fullback Paul Smith was inactive as he continues to recover from eye injuries suffered in a collision against Detroit.