By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Dec. 12 2004

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Time after time, the weary Rams defenders were strapping
their helmets on and heading back to the field.

Quarterback Chris Chandler threw six interceptions, a career-high for the
17-year NFL veteran, and Shaun McDonald muffed a punt, the Panthers recovering
deep in Rams territory. Those miscues led to the Panthers running 70 plays to
the Rams' 53, and building a whopping time-of-possession edge of more than 11
minutes.

Still, the Panthers had only a 19-yard advantage, 308 to 289, and mustered just
4.4 yards per snap to the Rams' 5.5. That's because the defense held strong in
the face of withering adversity.

"I feel like we've morphed into the defense we'd hoped we would be," coach Mike
Martz said. "I was very, very excited and pleased with the way they played
after that initial quarter."

The Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 lead, scoring after Chandler's first
interception and then cobbling together their only march of notable length -
nine plays, 69 yards, 4 1/2 minutes. The Panthers had racked up 124 total yards
after the opening 15 minutes.

Over the next three periods, they tacked on only 184 more and added only a pair
of field goals. Carolina had averaged 344 yards per game previously in its
winning streak, which has stretched to five games.

A week ago, San Francisco had just 160 yards, the lowest total of the season by
a Rams opponent. "We've gotten better," said cornerback Jerametrius Butler, who
recorded his fifth interception of the season Sunday. "It took us a while to
pick up the defense (Larry) Marmie brought in, but we're learning."

Marmie, in his first season as defensive coordinator, runs essentially the same
system as his predecessor, Lovie Smith. But Marmie's approach comes with
different individual requirements, and Martz acknowledged recently that the
Rams might have been too conservative in implementing the new package.

Now, the unit seems to be jelling. But that's of little consequence as the team
clings to fading playoff hopes, strong safety Adam Archuleta stressed.

"What does it matter if you don't win?" he said. "The bottom line in this
league is wins and losses. You could feel good about yourself all you want, but
at the end of the day ... this is a game that we needed to win, and we didn't
win it.

"So, it really doesn't matter how we feel as far as what we did as a team. We
didn't play well enough to win."

Whining about the turnovers on offense isn't acceptable, linebacker Pisa
Tinoisamoa emphasized. "We're out there to defend; we don't go out there just
to sit around," he said. "If the offense gives them the ball, it's our job to
get it back or to keep them from scoring."

Tinoisamoa's sore shoulder took another blow, and he left briefly for X-rays.
He returned and finished with five tackles.

"Guys are out there battling," he said, noting that Butler and fellow
cornerback Travis Fisher also came back after being shaken up. "We always knew
we were a good defense. We just had to get things together."

Defensive end Bryce Fisher, who had two sacks and seven tackles according to
press box statistics, said the Rams are striving to progress to the point where
their defense dominates as Carolina's did Sunday.

"They're an offense that's keyed by their defense: turnovers, short fields ...
that's the way that they play offense," he said. "Our offense turned it over
seven times, but we had chances to force turnovers ourselves, and we just
didn't make those plays. So their defense was able to control this game."