Rams engage after the rage
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch

Sunday, Nov. 14 2004

Make no mistake, Marshall Faulk has seen Rams coach Mike Martz in foul moods
before.

"But I've never heard him express it to us as a team," Faulk said.

Not that Faulk's complaining. "Every once in awhile, you've got to see the head
coach like that," Faulk said. "Every once in awhile, it's good."

The entire Rams roster got an earful of Really Mad Mike all last week, as did
the media, and it paid dividends in Sunday's 23-12 victory over Seattle.

"People around here probably didn't think he had that in him," Faulk said,
laughing. "I know him. I know he has it in him. I know the fire boils deep down
inside of him when things go wrong. And it was time he let it out."

Martz let it out just in the nick of time. With the 2004 season very much on
the line, Rams players responded favorably in a key NFC West showdown at Edward
Jones Dome.

The outcome left the Rams and the Seahawks with un-identical 5-4 records. By
virtue of sweeping both games with Seattle this season, the Rams have the
tiebreaker edge in the West. In essence, they're in first place.

"We knew (Seattle) had to come through us to win the West," defensive end
Leonard Little said. "They had to come in and beat us in our home spot, in a
critical game. Our team stepped up to the plate."

Not that there weren't a few whiffs and foul balls along the way. Not to
mention some unusual plot twists.

In a game that began in an Air Martz flurry, with quarterback Marc Bulger
throwing passes on the Rams' first 13 plays, the team finished with a
season-high 202 yards rushing.

The high-powered Seattle offense had the ball inside the Rams' 30 on six
possessions but couldn't score a touchdown. Alexander the Great, aka running
back Shaun Alexander, averaged a whopping eight yards per carry. But he lost a
critical fumble in the fourth quarter on his longest run of the day.

At first, it looked ridiculously easy for the Rams. They jumped to a 14-0 lead
by scoring on their first two possessions, with Bulger continually finding open
receivers over the middle. The Rams outgained Seattle 214 yards to 54 yards in
the first quarter
But hey, these are the 2004 Rams. When push came to shove, they had to do it
the hard way.

They did it without Torry Holt, the game's most productive receiver since 2000,
for most of the game. Holt suffered a concussion midway through the first
quarter and did not return.

They did it without Orlando Pace, a five-time Pro Bowler at left tackle, for
the last quarter and a half. Pace was ejected for making contact with an
official in the third quarter.

And they survived lost fumbles by Isaac Bruce (second quarter) and Faulk (third
quarter). When it comes to ball security, Bruce and Faulk normally are the two
most sure-handed Rams. For them to lose fumbles in the same game, well, that
happens about as often as NFL teams hold live tackling scrimmages in the middle
of the season.

But that's exactly what happened Wednesday at Rams Park - live tackling during
the team's 9-on-7 run periods.

"This is what I told our players: This wasn't punishment, how we practiced this
week," Martz said. "That had nothing to do with it. It's just that we have to
go back to basics and get better. Identify things that we're not doing well,
pad 'em up, and get it cleaned up on Wednesday. The players appreciated it.
They responded very, very well."

In a sense, it was a referendum on how they felt about Martz as a coach. He
challenged his players, particularly the defense, and the Rams responded.

"This happened to be a division game, and it also happened to be a game where
the defense was called out," cornerback Travis Fisher said. "That's your
manhood. You've got to go out and play when someone calls you out. Unless
you're going to accept it, you're going to go out and do your best to change
that."

Despite all those rushing yards by Alexander, the Rams proved stubborn on pass
defense and resolute in keeping Seattle out of the end zone. Seahawks
quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completed only 41.7 percent of his attempts and had
a passer rating of a mere 45.1. Rams cornerback Jerametrius Butler snuffed out
Seattle's first serious scoring attempt by intercepting Hasselbeck at the Rams'
1 in the first quarter.

The Seahawks got as close as an eight-point deficit, trailing 20-12 with four
minutes left in the third quarter after Josh Brown's fourth field goal of the
day. Seattle appeared poised to go in for what could have been a tying TD and
2-point conversion, when Alexander raced off left tackle on a 35-yard run early
in the fourth quarter.

But Aeneas Williams stripped Alexander of the ball at the Rams 14. Safety Rich
Coady recovered on the 9. It was the 15th forced fumble of Williams' career.

"I'm not ever just looking to make the tackle," Williams said. "I'm looking to
find a way to get the ball out."

As such, Williams was the living embodiment of the attitude adjustment Martz
was looking for during the week.

"You change (attitude) by getting on the field and showing your teammates that
you're going to hustle to the ball," Williams said. "And if that guy is still
wiggling, you're going to hit him."

Obviously, that's not how the Rams played in losses to New England and Miami
their last two times out. Which explains Martz's foul mood last week.

"I think the whole team was in a foul mood," Coady said. "Guys care. Guys want
to get better."

It showed Sunday.