By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
11/23/2005


The circumstances and the situation are a bit different each time, but by now, this has become routine for Jamie Martin. A starting quarterback goes down, and in comes the righthander from Weber State out of the bullpen.

"This has been my career - the career of a backup - being ready in this situation," Martin said. "Having those two games earlier in the year under my belt really helps. You can kind of calm down this week. You know what to expect. And hopefully, we'll have some good games."

It could be several games for Martin as the Rams' starting quarterback because Marc Bulger's latest shoulder injury is more serious than the one he suffered last month. Martin was thrown into the action against Indianapolis, and then started against New Orleans and Jacksonville. It's quite possible that Bulger will be out for the remainder of the season.

But Martin isn't worried about the long haul, just the start against the Houston Texans on Sunday in Reliant Stadium.

"We'll think about next week, next week," Martin said. "And think about the week after that, after that. That's all I do. That's all I'm ever going to do, is just think about today."

By now, the Rams know what to expect from Martin. At various times in the 2002 season, he came off the bench to replace an injured Kurt Warner, an injured Bulger, and an ineffective Scott Covington. Along the way, he started two games. Last season, he played most of the Rams' game Dec. 19 in Arizona after a first-quarter meltdown of epic proportions by Chris Chandler.

And this season, there was the aforementioned 2 1/2-game stint in place of Bulger. You could go back even further - nine seasons and two Rams stints earlier - when Martin replaced injured Tony Banks and rallied the Rams to a season-ending 14-13 victory over New Orleans.

"It's never easy," Martin said. "Like I said, maybe I'm a little bit more comfortable. But it's a challenge. Being a quarterback in the NFL is not easy - whether you're the starter, the third guy, or the backup, or whatever."

On Monday, interim head coach Joe Vitt expressed concern about sore ribs that Martin took out of the Arizona game, compliments of the blitz-happy Big Red. On Wednesday, Martin shrugged off questions about his health, much like Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson shrugged off Rams blockers

"Everybody's banged up," Martin said. "I took a couple shots, but nothing bad. ... It's nothing to worry about."

At age 35, Martin has been banging around the NFL since 1993, with stops in Washington, Jacksonville, Cleveland, and the New York Jets between his various Rams stints.

In all that time, he has started only five games and thrown only 430 passes. Suffice it to say, he relishes every opportunity to play, so a few aches and pains aren't going to derail him this time. He wasn't even listed Wednesday on the team's injury report.

Martin realizes he has some limitations as a player, but also knows he brings some assets.

"I think over my career, I've just kind of stayed even-keel," Martin said. "As a backup, when you get in the game, you can't be freaking out, and give everyone the impression that you're just not ready to come in and do this. I think I've been ready, and stayed kind of calm in those stressful situations."

And like all Mike Martz quarterbacks, he is accurate. His career completion percentage is 64.4 percent, and he's even better this season with a 68.9 percent rate on 90 passes.

"Yeah, I think I've been pretty accurate," Martin said. "Decision-making, it has to be (there). Because I'm not the physically-gifted guy that's going to run around and run for 40 yards, or throw the ball 80 yards downfield."

Martin lacks the arm strength of Bulger or rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has the strongest arm of the three. But he has shown an ability to get the ball downfield. He's had completions of 83, 42, and 26 yards to Kevin Curtis this season, as well as a 37-yarder to Torry Holt.

This season, Martin has shown savvy, as well as the toughness to take a hit and get right back up. Granted, he had help from the running game, the defense, and special teams against the Saints and Jaguars. But the Rams did come out of those games with victories, leading to a growing confidence from his teammates that Martin can get it done.

"I've come to expect good things from Jamie," Holt said. "Jamie's been here before. He's been in this situation before. We won with Jamie the last two games before we went into the bye week.

"So he's proven that we can win with him. And Coach (offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild) will do a good job of using his strengths, putting him in situations to make plays for us in the passing game, as well as in the run game, with play-action. So we're OK. We're fine with Jamie."