Rams extend their bye week
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch

The Rams couldn't pass block. They couldn't get a break from officials. And their field goal "block" unit couldn't find Troy Brown. As a result, they couldn't defeat New England on Sunday at Edward Jones Dome.

The Patriots' 40-22 victory represented the worst margin of defeat, and the most points allowed, by the Rams at home in Mike Martz's 4 1/2 seasons as head coach.

Refreshed from the bye week, and catching New England's secondary in an injury-depleted state, the Rams were supposed to be at the starting point of a second-half run. A bit of revenge for that Super Bowl XXXVI loss three years ago, and a statement that the Rams could hang with the best in the NFL. Instead, the Rams (4-4) looked very much like just another team.

Afterward, the frustration was obvious everywhere you went in the Rams' locker room. Defensive captain Tyoka Jackson, normally a positive-thinking, even-tempered spokesman for the team, lost his cool when asked by a reporter to rate the loss.

"Every loss is (bleeped), that's what every loss is," Jackson said, using a form of profanity he had never been heard to utter previously. "So I characterize every (bleeping) loss the same way."

More frustration. Running back Marshall Faulk grated at reporters looking for some kind of analysis on what went wrong Sunday.

"I'm not here to degrade anybody on my team or my coach," Faulk said. "Or say anything out of the ordinary. I'm here to play football. When my number's called I try to produce, and when it's not, I try to help the other guy produce."

Thanks in part to Leonard Little's first NFL touchdown, on a recovery of a Tom Brady fumble in the end zone, the Rams hung with the Patriots in the first half.

But three calls by Ed Hochuli's crew drew the ire of Martz, several Rams, and the 81st consecutive sellout crowd in St. Louis:

-A hit on Bulger by Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel with 8 1/2 minutes left in the first half appeared to be flagrant.

-A fumble by Bulger appeared to be out of bounds before being recovered by Jarvis Green with 1:02 to play in the first half.

-And a hit by Little on Brady appeared to be legal, on the play after the Green "recovery."

The Rams went 0-for-three on those calls. The combination of the Green fumble recovery and the roughing the passer penalty on Little proved to be a six-point swing. It ended a field-goal opportunity by St. Louis and jump-started a New England field goal drive that left the Patriots with a 19-14 lead at intermission.

The no-call on Vrabel and the call on Little left Martz particularly frustrated.

"So I will call Mike Pereira and find out what is a tackle," Martz said sarcastically.

Pereira is the NFL's supervisor of officials.

But even with those questionable calls, there are no excuses for what happened in the third quarter, when the Patriots put up 14 points to take an insurmountable 33-14 lead.

First came the special teams meltdown. A Rams holding penalty on the second-half kickoff pushed St. Louis back to its 10. Next, a wobbly punt by Sean Landeta was returned to the New England 46. The Patriots marched to the Rams' 4, but then "prepared" to kick a field goal on fourth and goal from the 4.

Prepared, but never kicked. Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri took a direct snap and launched a TD pass to wide receiver Brown, who was all by his lonesome in the left corner of the end zone.

Brown ambled toward what was supposed to be the Patriots' huddle, but then ambled over to the left slot, and then moved farther out to the left. Plenty of people saw him - on the Rams sideline, in the press box, and, undoubtedly, in the stands. Just no one on the Rams' field goal block unit.

"I could see it from the sideline," said Martz, who was seething. "I don't think that was the trickiest thing in the world. I mean, where was he going? To the 'john?'

"He's running out there to the corner of the end zone. I'm standing way back there (on the sideline) and I can see it. I'm running down there yelling for a time out. ... I mean that's ridiculous, guys. We've got to pay more attention than that, I would think. But I blame myself. Those things you've got to constantly go over."

Actually, the Rams did go over it - and still were bamboozled.

"We went over it in practice on Friday," Little said. "We were aware of it as a team. We went over the same situation."

Jackson WAS on the field, and he was disgusted by what transpired.

"The coaches can coach their butts off all they want, but when it comes down to playing on the field - once you get on the field, it's on us," Jackson said. "It's on us to see somebody out there, and you've got to get out there and cover the guy. If you don't, he's wide open. Touchdown.

"That's the turning point of the ballgame. That's the play of the game."

The hole got deeper when Bulger's pass over the middle was tipped by Willie McGinest and intercepted by Roman Phifer on the Rams' next possession.

"The throw was a little behind him," Bulger said. "And if you don't put the ball where you want to, things like that happen. It's my fault. If it's another two-feet left, it's a good ball."

The Patriots took over on the Rams' 21 and were in the end zone four plays later, when cornerback DeJuan Groce whiffed on an attempt to tackle running back Corey Dillon, who scored on a 5-yard TD run.

The Patriots entered the game not having blown a fourth-quarter lead in 32 straight victories - a league high. It became 33 Sunday.