Friday, September 2, 2005

By Nick Wagoner

Senior Writer

If you aren’t a diehard Harvard football fan, you probably didn’t know much about quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s skills.
Seeing as how Harvard isn’t exactly USC when it comes to football popularity, not many people did know, but there were plenty that found out Friday night. Count the Kansas City Chiefs among the group that found out all they needed to know about Fitzpatrick in the preseason finale at the Edward Jones Dome.

Fitzpatrick provided a solid, sometimes scintillating performance in place of Marc Bulger and Jamie Martin on the way to a 27-23 Rams win against the Chiefs. St. Louis finished the preseason at 3-1 while Kansas City dropped to 0-4.

“We are very pleased with him,” coach Mike Martz said. “Don’t tell him that. My expectations for him are different than for everybody else because I think he’s very special. So I expect him to be perfect. He made some mistakes but he made some real good plays too. That’s the only way he is going to learn…that’s why he played so much. He has to be put in those situations. He has to make those mistakes and learn from them. I may chew him out, but he needs that pressure.”

While neither team played its starters much, if at all, Fitzpatrick stole the show with a solid performance through the air and an even more impressive display of fleet feet.

Fitzpatrick brought the Rams back from a 20-10 deficit with 195 yards on 12-of-22 passing and a pair of touchdowns. He added another 31 yards on five carries and even got the Rams a pair of valuable first downs late, one by way of a second-effort quarterback sneak and the other on a hard count that drew the Chiefs offside.

Countless times, Fitzpatrick felt the pass rush coming on, made a move to one side or another, evaded the defender and threw a strike to the receiver. When you combine that poise with those quick feet, it’s easy to see why Martz expects so much from the seventh-round draft choice.

Of course, Fitzpatrick was his own biggest critic afterward.

“It was such a fun game to be in,” Fitzpatrick said. “I made some real rookie mistakes. There are a lot of things that personally I need to clean up. The biggest thing when you make a mistake is you do it and it’s over with. It’s real important to bounce back.”

Fitzpatrick did throw a bad interception in the fourth quarter and coughed up a fumble when he was sacked in the second quarter. Kansas City converted the fumble into Dee Brown touchdown run and the interception into a Lawrence Tynes’ field goal.

But more often than not, Fitzpatrick was able to avoid making further mistakes because of his little-known ability to scramble his way out of trouble.

“We don’t get much publicity over at Harvard,” Fitzpatrick said. “But if anybody had seen a Harvard game, there were designed running plays for the quarterback there. I ran the ball quite a bit. That was the first time I had a chance to get out there, get pressured a little bit and move around.”

Fitzpatrick hit receiver Dane Looker for a 20-yard touchdown with just under four minutes to play for the final margin. His other scoring pass came in the third quarter, when he fired a 40-yard strike to Shaun McDonald.

Fitzpatrick wasn’t the only young player to make his presence felt against the Chiefs. Running back Aveion Cason, who has been in direct competition with Arlen Harris for the third running back/kick return duties, had his most impressive game as a Ram.

With Harris unavailable because of a concussion and Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson not getting much or any playing time, Cason inherited the running back job. He responded with 20 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Although Cason didn’t have a stellar rushing average, he proved to be tougher than expected between the tackles and quietly produced some important first downs.

“Aveion Cason was someone who made a mark for himself in this game with the kickoff returns and the way he played,” Martz said.

Cason has spent the majority of his time in the NFL as a kick returner with little to no opportunity to handle the workload.

“I haven’t had that many carries in my whole career,” Cason said. “I felt like it (this game) was very important. Coach Martz came to me at the beginning of the week and asked me if I was ready. I told him I was ready and I had to go out and take advantage of my opportunities.”

Cason wasn’t the only player being watched closely Friday night that came up with a strong performance under fire. Cornerback Kevin Garrett came up with an impressive interception and return in the first half and rookie receiver Dominique Thompson came up with a pair of catches for 33 yards in the second half.

Martz’s plan all week was to not play the starters much, if at all and take a look at some of the backups. He said after the game that he was given plenty to think about by some of his players.

“I’m anxious for the season to start,” Martz said. “Now we can get down to business. This is kind of a big win. It’s such short notice. It’s really hard to make some of these cuts because there are guys that deserve to be on this club that may not make it.”

Those cuts will have to be made Sunday when the roster must be trimmed to the final 53. But it was the depth provided by many of the players that might not be around that enabled the Rams to come back and snatch a win and the Governor’s Cup only days after a Monday night victory in Detroit.

“There were a number of things that were good that came out of this game,” Martz said. “The fact that we were down and came back and won, I think is exceptional.”