Rams Keep Hope Alive With 20-7 Win
By Barry Waller
While the consensus is that the Rams victory over the Eagles Monday night should not be given much credence, since the Eagles played their second and third stringers much of the 20-7 win, there is still reason to celebrate for Rams fans.
At the very least, the win makes the final regular season game Sunday against the Jets a meaningful contest for both clubs, and anyone who remembers the 2000 Rams season knows anything can happen this weekend. Even though the Falcons and Redskins, the two teams the Rams need to win for them to slip into the playoffs at 8-8, have nothing tangible to play for in their games against the Seahawks and Vikings, the Rams shouldn’t assume anything.
If both Seattle and Minnesota win, the only hope for the Rams is a tie between the Saints and Panthers. However, there have only been a handful of tied NFL games since overtime was instituted, so the odds of it happening in that game, with both teams needing a win to qualify for the playoffs, are astronomical.
As far as the game Monday night’s game, I wouldn’t want to tell Eagles fullback Thomas Tapeh that the game meant nothing to the NFC East Champs. Tapeh left the game late in the fourth quarter on a cart, with what looked to be a serious hip injury, the kind that can end careers. Two Eagles defensive backs who leapt high in the air to foil a pass by kicker Jeff Wilkins on a fake punt, and came crashing into the cement surface of the Edward Jones Dome to end their day, were not playing as if it didn’t matter.
Watching rookie running back Steven Jackson leave the field limping badly with a bruised knee, again courtesy of the outdated and dangerous Astroturf carpet the Rams and their guests must endure, makes it harder to scoff at this win. Jackson had a big day in his return from a week off, gaining over 100 yards in the first half alone, finishing with a season high 148 yards on 24 carries. Rams coach Mike Martz uncharacteristically called 10 straight rushes to open the game, with Jackson scoring on the tenth.
Watching guard Tom Nutten limp off bleeding and gimpy on a very bad turf toe, or at Marshall Faulk, who is obviously not healthy, sitting in pain at his locker following a 17 carry, 54-yard effort in the game, brings a few things into perspective. The Rams have simply been decimated by injury in 2004, and whether the turf is at fault is debatable, but it needs to be replaced after the season regardless.
Though they have had more than a fair share of serious injuries, the team’s character has shown up because of it, regardless of what some critics may say. Just look at Chris Dishman, who has been fighting knee injuries all season, after being begged to un-retire in August when the Rams offensive line woes began. Dishman could have called it quits again after the last knee injury a few weeks ago, but tried to come back for these last two games, to help keep hope alive for his teammates.
On Friday, Dishman, one of the nicer guys in the game, blew out the knee for good, tearing his ACL. It will require surgery, and his career will probably be done. He’ll have a limp as a reminder of his year in St. Louis. Nutten probably won’t return either, again going into retirement after spending most of the year trying to get back in game shape, so he could help out. Fellow guard Adam Timmerman won’t be helping his brother on the farm right after the season, as he loves to do so much, because he’ll be getting both shoulders operated on.
Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who was flying all over the field Monday, will join Timmerman, with surgery to fix his shoulder, that has painfully popped out of place several times during the season. Martz indicated that Bulger has actually been playing hurt since the opener, with a bad shoulder, and also that Jackson had actually partially torn a ligament in the win over the Niners, not just bruised his knee as reported.
Cornerback Travis Fisher will need to have a pin removed from his surgically repaired arm in the off-season, and a few other Rams may have to have “tune up” procedures done in February. That’s why fans shouldn’t get too down on this group for not excelling as they did in the past. The spirit is still there, but the bodies have not been healthy.
Mike Martz is now getting ripped by his obnoxious and loud detractors, for not running the pigskin like he did Monday, in every game this season. Ironically, those same fans and media members, who possess have the same obsessive temperament of the most left wing political activists, also point to the lack of motivation from the Eagles as the major reason the Rams could run with such success. Martz obvious response to questions about running or not running the ball was that when it works, he would stay with it, something fans seem to ignore when going after Martz game plans week after week.
With doubts about Martz return squelched publicly by the Rams owner and team president, after ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Martz could be in trouble, his team responded by playing hard for 60 minutes, and not falling prey to a letdown because of the circumstances of the game for the Eagles. The guys at ESPN have roundly ripped Martz for saying that the rumor unsettled his players a week earlier, but it seems strange that they defend Mortensen for starting a rumor that had to be as much a wild speculation as anything solid.
It seems to me that many media people are eager to jump on the “bash Martz” bandwagon, even those who have never met or talked to him, let alone been to Rams Park. The issue has been settled by ownership, yet the rumors and wasted whining by many fans continues, and probably will into next season after every Rams loss.
I wonder why fans are so upset at the two road losses that dimmed the teams hopes so severely, when they say the Eagles and Falcons and other teams having to use second string passers are excused for losing with them. The return of Marc Bulger, undoubtedly the Rams 2004 MVP, was the reason the Rams could beat any team. When the Eagles blitzed, as they so often do, Bulger, who finished 20-27, for 225 yards and a score, got rid of the ball quickly, or ran for positive yardage.
Chris Chandler would have been dead meet against the Eagles pass rush, and had Bulger not gotten hurt three weeks ago when he landed on the rock hard Eddie Dome turf, that Martz made the focus of his post game press conference, maybe the Rams would not be so bad off right now. The Rams get one more shot, against a team that will care very much whether they win, to get to .500, and do their part to keep their slim hopes alive.
In 2000, they faced the same challenge, and beat the division champion Saints on the road with a spirited effort. It meant little other than a return trip the next week, where they lost to the Saints, but the way the season finished seemed to give the team a boost headed to 2001, when they again won the NFC, and finished oh so close to winning it all again. If the team upsets the Jets, maybe it would be a good time to get off Martz case, and look toward 2005 with a positive attitude instead of already conceding any shot at winning as long as Martz remains.
Since Martz’ teams are 27-5 in odd years, and the Rams are 40-8 since 1999 in odd numbered campaigns, maybe fans should look forward to what could occur next season, but not till after the Rams hopes are officially over for this season.