By Bill Coats

Late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Rams wide receiver Kevin Curtis was steaming around right end toward the end zone when New Orleans cornerback Mike McKenzie appeared in his path. Curtis had a teammate in front of him ... but he was wearing No. 11.

"I saw Jamie out there leading the way," Curtis said. That's Jamie, as in quarterback Jamie Martin. Members of his NFL fraternity aren't exactly renowned for their blocking skill, much less desire. Nonetheless, the 6-foot, 205-pound Martin set course for McKenzie, 6-0 and 194.

"I'm not a lineman; I just tried to shield him," Martin explained. "I did just enough ... just enough."

"Enough to give me some room to get around the edge," Curtis said. His 5-yard touchdown on a reverse - Martin handed to running back Steven Jackson, who handed to the speedy Curtis - gave the Rams their first lead of the afternoon. Some 5 minutes 58 seconds later, they strolled off the Edward Jones Dome turf with a 28-17 victory that ended their three-game losing streak.

Martin's day ended better than it started: His first pass was far off target, skittering to the turf near the left sideline, well behind wideout Shaun McDonald. "I was nervous," Martin acknowledged. "I kind of just jerked (the ball) out there."

Martin's anxiety was understandable. Though he's in his 11th NFL season, Martin, 35, had made only three previous starts - all losses. The first was for Jacksonville in 1998; the last two were for the Rams in 2002.

As Marc Bulger's understudy in '04, Martin appeared in just one game. But Bulger watched Sunday from the sideline after suffering a shoulder injury Monday night at Indianapolis, and Martin was front and center in front of 64,586 restless fans.

To add to Martin's worries, wide receivers Isaac Bruce (toe) and Torry Holt (knee) also were unavailable. "Those guys are kind of the heart and soul of this team. To have them out, it's tough," Curtis said.

It showed. "For a while there, we were in a lull," wideout Dane Looker said. "The defense was doing a great job stopping them, and we'd go three-and-out multiple times. We just can't have that."

But after his inauspicious start, Martin gradually settled in. "I calmed down as the game went along," Martin said. "Overall, I think I was all right."

Martin connected on 18 of 29 passes for 198 yards; his passer rating was 82.3. He didn't throw for a score, but he wasn't intercepted, either. "He missed a couple of open throws," interim head coach Joe Vitt said. "But when you can protect the ball ... you have a pretty good chance to win."

Martin hooked up with seven different receivers. Curtis collected 90 yards on his four catches, including a key 42-yard grab.

"Late in the game, Jamie started throwing some good balls," McDonald said. "That ball to Kevin was a great ball ... big play. They both stepped up at the same time."