By Bill Coats

Curious Rams fans won't have to wait until Friday this week to learn who will start at quarterback.

Interim head coach Joe Vitt said Monday that with Marc Bulger expected to miss at least another game, rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick will be back at the controls Sunday in Minnesota. Jamie Martin, if healthy, presumably will back up Fitzpatrick.

"I have no problem with the way (Fitzpatrick) played" Sunday in a 24-9 loss to Washington, Vitt said. "We've got to help him."

A moribund running game - 49 yards on 17 attempts - forced the Rams to rely on Fitzpatrick's arm. Blitzed constantly, the seventh-round draft pick from Harvard completed 21 of 36 passes for 163 yards. He was sacked three times and avoided several other takedowns with some nifty footwork. He scored on a 7-yard scramble in the second quarter.

"By halftime, we're asking Fitz to win it for us, because we couldn't run the ball," Vitt said. "Forty-nine rushing yards ... you could put the second coming of Joe Montana back there or John Unitas or whoever you want ... you get those kinds of numbers and the protections the way they were, you have no chance."

Fitzpatrick saw his first regular-season action Nov. 27 at Houston, when Martin exited after suffering a concussion late in the first period. Fitzpatrick rallied the Rams from a three-touchdown deficit to a 33-27 overtime victory and was named the NFC offensive player of the week.

Even though Vitt didn't confirm Fitzpatrick as his starter until about 48 hours before kickoff, the Redskins spent the week preparing for the rookie. They consistently flooded the area between the tackles with defenders, daring the Rams (5-7) to beat them through the air.

"I didn't feel nervous at all; I just missed some throws," Fitzpatrick said. "Their blitz was good, as far as disguising things and rolling coverages and things like that. ... I think they're just a good defense. They're a very physical team. Great speed."

Vitt emphasized that when Bulger recovers from the shoulder injury he suffered Nov. 20, he would return to the lineup. "I don't think any player should ever lose his job through injury," Vitt said. "As soon as Marc is ready to go, Marc will go."

Coakley will be missed

Linebacker Dexter Coakley's ninth NFL season ended with a gruesome injury late in the first quarter. Coakley, 33, suffered a broken left leg and dislocated ankle and is facing major surgery. He was placed on injured reserve Monday.

"We're sure going to miss his leadership," Vitt said. "He's going to have to get a plate put in his leg, and that stays in, I think, for three months. I told him I'd do everything that's humanly possible to make sure that wasn't his last snap."

Second-year pro Brandon Chillar took over for Coakley and was credited unofficially with six tackles. "That's not the way I want to get my playing time; I've got a lot of respect for Dexter," Chillar said. "But I've been studying, so I was prepared to go in."


Vitt said strong safety Adam Archuleta, who has missed two games after suffering a concussion, would return this week. ... The groin injury that has sidelined cornerback Travis Fisher for four of the past five games is being re-evaluated.