Wednesday, November 23, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
As the Rams embarked on this season, the expectations for the offense were as high as they had been in years. At the top of the list of things expected to make the offense better was the continued development of quarterback Marc Bulger.
Bulger finished 2004 on a strong note and had made his move to the top tier of quarterbacks in the league. With that, even his teammates began to expect big things from their signal caller.
“I came into the year thinking that 10 had a chance to be MVP of the league,” defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. “I believe that. He has been hurt a couple times and that is killer to our team. You don’t like to go in games without all of your guns. We need him, but unfortunately he won’t be there. So we have to ride with what we got.”
What the Rams have is backup Jamie Martin. After Bulger suffered an aggravation of the sprained AC joint in his shoulder against Arizona on Sunday, Martin was left to take over for Bulger for the second time this season.
When Bulger suffered the injury the first time in the team’s loss to Indianapolis on Oct. 17, Martin came in and struggled at times. But, with Bulger out for the following two games against New Orleans and Jacksonville, Martin answered the call. In fact, Martin led the Rams to a pair of victories in those games to get them back to .500 going into the bye week.
Make no mistake, Martin didn’t exactly carry the Rams to wins in those games, but as a backup, he isn’t expected to.
“I have come to expect good things from Jamie,” receiver Torry 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’s numbers weren’t eye popping like some that Bulger has posted, but he did enough in the passing game to keep the Jaguars and Saints honest, opening things up for a pair of big games from running back Steven Jackson.
Against New Orleans, Martin was 18-of-29 for 198 yards. He had no touchdown passes, but didn’t throw an interception, either. A week later against the Jaguars, Martin had some more successes, but also a few more mistakes. In that game, he was 13-of-21 for 200 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. One of the touchdowns, though, was an 83-yard strike to Kevin Curtis.
“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.”
One advantage Martin will have in this stint as the starter is a full cadre of weapons available to him that he didn’t have last time. Holt and fellow star receiver Isaac Bruce have returned since Martin was last in the lineup.
It was obvious that Martin and Curtis had built a good rapport before the bye week and they continued that success in hooking up for a touchdown against Arizona on Sunday.
Martin and Holt also appeared to be in sync as that duo connected for some big gains late in that game. Martin finished 14-of-19 for 161 yards and a touchdown for a rating of 116.3.
Martin is 62-of-90 for 693 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions for a respectable 83.2 rating in his four games this season.
“I think any experience you get is helpful,” center Andy McCollum said. “Jamie this year was solid. He is playing ball, anytime we need him he comes out there and gets the job done and runs this offense as well as anybody. We all have great confidence in Jamie.”
Martin is still as soft spoken and quiet as ever, but he knows that if the Rams want to cling to the faint hopes of the playoffs he will need to help them get on the right track this weekend against Houston.
With the valuable experience of the wins in his other starts; Martin seems more ready than ever to handle the responsibilities of being a starter.
“It’s never easy,” Martin said. “Maybe a little bit more comfortable, but it’s a challenge. Being a quarterback in the NFL is not easy whether you are the starter or the backup or the third guy or whatever.”
Martin didn’t exactly make it out of Sunday’s game unscathed, though. He took a number of brutal shots, including one on a sack from linebacker Darryl Blackstock that was nothing short of bone rattling. Martin fumbled on that play and he suffered bruised ribs as a result of the blow.
Martin said Wednesday that the pain wasn’t a big deal and he practiced Wednesday as though he will be playing most of the game against the Texans. It appears that Bulger’s injury will keep him out longer than last time and it’s not out of the question for Bulger to not return this season.
If that scenario was to come to fruition, it would leave Martin in a situation where he might start the rest of the season. For now, though, Martin isn’t concerned with the future. And rightfully so, as a career backup, nobody knows better than Martin that you are always just one play away.
“I am not worried about that,” Martin said. “I am worried about this game, today learning what I should be learning and playing Sunday to win the game.”