For the second time this season, the Rams have lost quarterback Marc Bulger to a shoulder injury. After Bulger suffered the first injury Oct. 17 against the Colts, the Rams won their next two games with Jamie Martin under center and without wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
Facing a possible lost season with a record of 4-6, Martin returns, this time with Holt and Bruce back on the field. Rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick again will be Martin's backup, and he took more snaps in practice this week than he did the last time he was one injury away from playing. Martin did suffer bruised ribs last week against Arizona.

Interim coach Joe Vitt was pleased with Martin's work this week.

"He was really sharp the last two days, really sharp," Vitt said Thursday. "His ribs were a little hurt going into (Wednesday's) practice, but I thought he was really sharp. He threw the ball well, good anticipation. He had a good zip on the ball. The receivers did a good job of running routes and catching for him."

Asked if he is comfortable giving Martin the entire playbook to run, Vitt said, "He has the entire playbook, but then we'll whittle it down. He's been in this system his whole life, so he knows what to do. He knows where to go with the ball, he knows his progressions. He knows his pre-snap reads, he knows all that stuff. We haven't cut it back for him."

As for what has impressed him about Fitzpatrick, who played well in the preseason and beat out Jeff Smoker for the No. 3 job, Vitt said, "He's mobile. He has a strong arm. He's extremely smart. He's really devoured the offense. He understands it. He can make the impromptu play. He stays alive. He's accurate on the run. He's really got a great future."

But for now, as the Rams try to salvage something positive out of this season, Martin is the man.

"I have come to expect good things from Jamie," Holt said. "He's been here before; he's been in this situation before. We rolled with Jamie the last two games before we went into the bye week. He has proven that we can win with Jamie. We are OK, we are fine with Jamie. We are fortunate enough to have a guy that understands the system."

Martin has a passer rating of 83.2 in the four games he's played, and he says he's ready.

"This is my career," Martin said. "I'm a career backup to be ready in these situations. Having those two games earlier in the year under my belt really helps to kind of calm down this week and know what to expect and hopefully have some good games."

Also ready will be Fitzpatrick.


"You're always excited about the opportunity to play," Fitzpatrick said. "Hopefully everything goes well and Jamie throws for 300 yards and we win the game. But if something happens and I have to go in, I'm definitely going to try to seize the opportunity."

A little more than three weeks ago, Joe Vitt was the toast of the town. The Rams' interim coach had guided his team to home wins over New Orleans and Jacksonville and brought their record to 4-4.

Vitt was hailed for his no-nonsense approach and credited for motivating his team with movie clips or speeches. The day before the win over the Saints, there was a clip of Jim Valvano's famous "Never Give Up" speech. The following week, there was a scene from "The Gladiator," played the day before the win over the Jaguars.

However, there has been little talk of motivational tactics the last two games, as the Rams have virtually taken themselves out of playoff contention with a road loss to Seattle and a stunning home loss to Arizona.

It was bad enough to lose to the Cardinals, a division rival, but even worse to have it happen at the hands of former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner.

Wide receiver Torry Holt refuses to concede. While acknowledging that "we have to run the table," Holt added, "and hope that some teams lose to give us a shot to get in. And we have a very tough table to run. We have some good football teams coming in. Right now everyone is scratching and clawing to get in. We definitely have to get some sense of urgency in order to run the table and hope for some other teams to give us an opportunity."

For Vitt, he has to keep his team on the same page, and ensure that it doesn't totally collapse. Asked how he can motivate the team for the rest of the season, Vitt said, "Again, nobody has to come to work on Wednesday. They really don't. Anybody that doesn't want to play, they can stay home. We get to come to work. This is the National Football League. This is a great game. I still get excited about playing on Sunday. I still get excited about going to work on Wednesday.

"I told the players, 'This is Thanksgiving week. We have a lot to be thankful for.' Things aren't the way we'd like them to be right now, but they are the way they are, and it's up to us to get it changed. I think the true test of a man's character comes out when times are tough, and times are tough. Make no doubt about that, they're tough. We'll take roll call, see who's here, put a smile on our face and go prepare to play. That's the bottom line. We're going to go prepare to play. We're all disappointed, but the last time I looked, none of us always get what we want. We usually get what we deserve. It's up to us to fix it."

Running back Steven Jackson said, "We (have to) go back to work. There is no need to keep your head down. We have to finish out strong and we have a lot of games to play. We can't just give up because we lost. We're all professionals here and we just have to go out and get ready for practice later on this week."

When it was noted to Vitt that some players have voiced the feeling that they have lost confidence and asked how he can help that, Vitt said, "I tell you what, we're all men. What I'm not going to do is take an air hose and stick it in their ear and start pumping them up. I'm not going to do that. This is a great game, and we're blessed to be a part of it. I'm excited after 27 years to go coach this game. If they're not excited to play the game, then just let us know. We'll bring the next guy on, but I don't feel that.

"I think a lot of emotions talk after a game. None of us slept last night. We all feel terrible. With 10 minutes left to go in the game, we're winning the game. It's ugly, but it's a winnable game. Well, we lost the game, and now it is what it is. I've said it before; I don't think anybody out there, or here, is going to feel sorry about our sad story. It's up to us. I told the players this morning they're either going to be part of the solution, or part of the problem. They're going to have to define that themselves."

We'll learn how it's defined after the Rams play the 1-9 Texans Sunday in Houston.

SERIES HISTORY
: First meeting.

NOTES, QUOTES


The team's defense continues to shoot itself in the foot with penalties, many coming in critical situations. CB Chris Johnson was called for hands to the face on a third-and-12 play the Rams had stopped. The Cardinals continued the drive to a touchdown.

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa was called for holding on second-and-16. Arizona had four first downs by penalty and three were on third down.

"You cannot win with the number of penalties we have, especially being untimely penalties," interim head coach Joe Vitt said. "We're going to continue to address it; we're going to continue to coach against it."

Particularly vexing to Vitt is that he has had officials at practice the last three weeks, and the infractions in workouts have decreased. But Vitt said he won't change his approach.

"You know, the one thing I'm not going do right now is I'm not going to change my approach," Vitt said. "We're going to stress it every single day. We're going to coach against it every single day. But all of a sudden if I start going up and down with my emotions and the assistant coaches start doing that, then panic sets in. So no, we're just going to continue to coach hard against it."

Said wide receiver Torry Holt, "I think on both sides of the ball the mistakes we're having and the penalties that we're having is, I would say, a lack of focus, on both sides of the ball. We as players have to take onus to that and get better on that. Coach Vitt has brought refs in to try to help us with that, and we still come out here on Sundays and make the same mistakes. So, we as players have to take onus to that and continue to get better at that and move forward."

Defensive end Brandon Green is expected to start again instead of Anthony Hargrove, who has rarely made plays, while continuing to be undisciplined in run defense.

Said interim coach Joe Vitt of Green, "All he does is make plays, and all he does is work hard every day. He's a quick twitch, undersized athlete, has great knowledge of the game, has an outstanding work ethic. He's assignment conscious and a big part of our football team, a great acquisition."

Asked if Green had earned another start, Vitt said, "We'll talk about that as the week goes on, but in my mind he has. He really played well."

Amid every possible problem this team has had this season, one more was added Sunday against Arizona during a halftime show that featured bands from different armed forces in honor of Veteran's Day.

Near the end of halftime, Rams punter Bryan Barker came on the field and began warming up by kicking balls over the heads of the performers.

After the team received numerous complaints Monday, Barker apologized in a statement.

"I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions Sunday," the statement said. "It was not my intention to be disrespectful to our military personnel. We have a short time to prepare for the second half, and I was only following my regular routine in getting warmed up. It was unfortunate it happened as we were saluting our armed forces, and for that I deeply apologize."

BY THE NUMBERS: 4-11 - The Rams' road record since the start of the 2004 season, including 1-1 in the postseason. In the 11 losses, the Rams have been out-scored 393-189. They have allowed 30 or more points nine times and 40 or more four times.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think this, and this is something we talked about as a staff. We're going to have to try to demand more prefect practices. If we have a mistake in practice, we're going to have to do the play over again. And if we have to stay out there until 7 o'clock at night until we get it right that is going to have to be the approach." - Interim coach Joe Vitt on how to eliminate mistakes by his team.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

DE Leonard Little was added to the injury report Thursday as probable with an ankle injury. Said interim coach Joe Vitt, "He got a cortisone shot yesterday in his ankle, and you want to rest that thing for 24 hours afterwards. He'll be ready to go tomorrow."

LT Orlando Pace missed more practice Friday because of a hamstring injury, but he is listed as probable and expects to play Sunday.

RB Marshall Faulk has practiced sparingly this week, just like last week because of a knee injury. Faulk is probable and is expected to play his usual role in the offense.

S O.J. Atogwe practiced better Thursday than he did Wednesday because of a toe injury suffered against Arizona. While he is questionable, interim coach Joe Vitt said, "He moved around really well today. He really did. He practiced really well."

QB Jamie Martin practiced Wednesday and proclaimed himself fine after suffering bruised ribs in relief of Marc Bulger last Sunday. Martin is expected to start Sunday against Houston with Bulger out because of a shoulder injury.

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Rams' rookie seventh-round pick, took a number of snaps with the first unit in practice Wednesday. Fitzpatrick is expected to open the game Sunday against Houston as the backup to Jamie Martin.

SS Adam Archuleta did not practice and will not play Sunday against Houston because of a concussion suffered against the Cardinals.

SS Jerome Carter, a rookie, will make his first start this week with Adam Archuleta out because of a concussion.

CB Travis Fisher, who did not play against Arizona last week, is expected to miss another game this week against Houston because of a lingering groin injury.

CB DeJuan Groce is listed as questionable, but isn't expected to play Sunday against Arizona because of a concussion.

G Rex Tucker will be the main backup at guard Sunday against Houston because of a concussion suffered last week by Blaine Saipaia.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Rams must find a way to open holes for RB Steven Jackson, in combination with the passing game. The Rams ran more than usual in QB Jamie Martin's previous two starts, but WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce did not play in those games. Both are now back.

On defense, the Rams will try to get pressure on QB David Carr, but they must stop RB Domanick Davis and WR Andre Johnson.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Rams secondary vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson - With CBs Travis Fisher and DeJuan Groce likely out for this game, it will be up to someone from the group that includes rookie Ron Bartell, Chris Johnson or Corey Ivy to keep Johnson from making big plays. The starting secondary will be Bartell, Johnson, SS Jerome Carter and FS Mike Furrey.

INJURY IMPACT:
Concussions were in abundance after last Sunday's game against Arizona. Getting knocked out were SS Adam Archuleta, CB DeJuan Groce and G Blaine Saipaia. Archuleta and Saipaia definitely won't play this week, while Groce probably won't. ... Injuries also hit the quarterbacks again as Marc Bulger (shoulder) and Jamie Martin (ribs) were hurt against the Cardinals. Bulger is expected to be out at least three weeks, while Martin should start Sunday. ... The secondary also is affected by injuries to CB Travis Fisher (groin) and S O.J. Atogwe (toe).
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