BY JIM THOMAS
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Oct. 24 2004

MIAMI -- With the score tied 7-7 and half a minute to go in the first half
Sunday, the Miami Dolphins faced a third-and-28 dilemma from the Rams' 42.

Rams defensive coordinator Larry Marmie planned to play a soft Cover 2. Keep
the receivers in front of you, prevent the big play, and the worst thing that
happens is a moderate gain and a field goal.

But coach Mike Martz asked Marmie to blitz.

``I said, `Just go after them,' '' Martz recalled later. ``That was the only
defense I've called as a head coach, and we gave up a touchdown. How do you
like that?''

The blitz never got there. Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler found Randy McMichael
open over the middle, and with Rams defenders slipping all around him on the
grass surface at Pro Player Stadium, McMichael had an easy journey to the end
zone. His touchdown gave Miami a 14-7 lead with just 22 seconds remaining until
halftime.

It was that kind of day for the Rams in a numbing 31-14 loss to the previously
winless and offensively inept Dolphins. For the Rams, whatever could go wrong
did. At 4-3, they remain atop the NFC West only because Seattle lost to Arizona
25-17.

The Rams dropped passes and muffed interceptions. They committed several costly
penalties. They got fooled on one trick play after another. And they somehow
made one of the league's most feeble offenses look potent.

``It was just a comedy of errors,'' Martz said.

Except no one in Rams Nation is laughing.

``Obviously, we're upset,'' Martz said. ``This is not what we wanted. It is
what it is.''

What it is is the type of game that teams with serious playoff aspirations
shouldn't have. Especially against a downtrodden team such as Miami.

So what happened? There were no easy answers in the locker room.

``You got me,'' offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. ``I don't know. We made so
many mistakes -- everywhere.''

``They were more hungry than us, or something,'' defensive tackle Ryan Pickett
said. ``We just got outplayed.''

Why? ``I have no idea,'' Pickett said. ``I couldn't give you an explanation of
why.''

Booed loudly in pregame introductions, Fielder played more like Dan Marino than
the NFL's lowest-rated passer entering Sunday's play.

``We played the run real well and broke down in other areas,'' Pickett said.
``We gave them too many big plays. Too many big passing plays. And we had
missed tackles. It's just disappointing.''

Nearly two-third of Miami's passing yardage came on three big plays:

* Wide receiver Marty Booker completed a 48-yard pass Chris Chambers on the
Dolphins' second offensive series. It's a trick play the Dolphins had worked on
extensively this season in practice but hadn't completed once, Dolphins coach
Dave Wannstedt said. But it worked Sunday, setting up the first Miami TD.

* Next came the aforementioned 42-yard TD to McMichael, who was startled to
find himself so open on the play.

``That was unbelievable,'' McMichael said. ``When you see that safety spinning
toward the middle (in zone coverage), and you have a seam route, you just lick
your chops and hope Jay sees it.''

Fiedler saw it all right, correctly reading blitz, and then getting the ball
out quickly. The pass never would have happened had the Rams not accepted a
holding penalty on Miami after a third-and-18 pass from the 32 fell incomplete.

``I was surprised that they actually took the penalty to keep us in third down
at that point,'' Fiedler said.

Martz later explained that the Rams took the penalty, instead of declining,
because they wanted to take Miami out of field goal range. The Miami kick would
have been from 49 or 50 yards by Matt Bryant. Signed just two weeks ago as an
injury replacement for Olindo Mare (calf), Bryant hasn't made a kick longer
than 47 yards in three NFL seasons.

* The backbreaker for the Rams came with 4 1/2 minutes to play in the fourth
quarter, and the Rams trailing 24-14. On third and 7 from the Miami 29, Fiedler
saw Rams corner Fisher playing outside leverage on Chambers. It's a technique
the Rams frequently use, and one that invites teams to throw the slant pattern.

That's exactly what Fiedler did, with Chambers getting inside position on
cornerback Travis Fisher, and then streaking 71 yards for a victory-clinching
touchdown.

But to lay all the blame on the defense would be missing two-thirds of the
story. Special teams were horrific, and the offense was largely ineffective for
3 1/2 quarters.

Isaac Bruce managed five catches for 98 yards, but Torry Holt was limited to
one catch for four yards in the eagerly-anticipated matchup against Miami
cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain. You have to go back to Game 5 of
Holt's rookie season -- when he caught zero passes against Atlanta -- to find a
less productive game.

``I don't know if they shut us down,'' Bruce said. ``They did a pretty good job
and played within their scheme.''

And on one of the few drives when the Rams got something going, Marc Bulger
threw a costly interception into triple coverage on Holt midway through the
third quarter.

``I probably just got a little greedy,'' Bulger said. ``I've completed passes
like that before with guys around (the receiver), but I should have been
smarter. You live and learn.''

On the previous play, the Rams had an apparent 9-yard TD run by Steven Jackson
wiped out by a holding penalty against offensive lineman Scott Tercero. Were it
not for the penalty, Jackson's run would have tied the score 14-14.

``We had plenty of opportunities to make plays and didn't make them,'' Martz
said. ``We were terrible on third down for a lot of reasons.''

Actually, they were terrible on just about all fronts. And it showed in the
final score.