Martz says players are energized for postseason play

BY STEVE KORTE




ST. LOUIS - St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz is glad that his team didn't have a bye in the playoffs this year.

The Rams (9-8) are seven-point underdogs against the Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia Dome in an NFC Divisional playoff game.

The Rams will be playing their third game in 14 days. The Falcons should be well-rested after having a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us right now, you just wouldn't want to have a bye," Martz said. "In years past with the experience that we had, and we were at a high level going into the playoffs, we wanted to rest our guys a little bit. That's not the case right now.

"It's like I told the team a couple of weeks ago, 'It's like we have a whole new season.' These guys are energized as if the season has just begun in their minds."

If the Rams win, they'll be playing in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 23 against either the Philadelphia Eagles or the Minnesota Vikings.

They'll travel to Philadelphia to play the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, but they'd play the Vikings in the friendly confines of the Edward Jones Dome.

"Right now, we are right where we were last year with the same opportunity, except we are on the road," said Martz, whose team lost 29-23 in double overtime to the Carolina Panthers in a divisional playoff game last year.

Three of the four games on the NFL's Wild Card weekend were won by road teams. It marked the first road playoff win for the Rams since the 1989 season.

"I've never been a part of a team that has won a playoff game on the road," Martz said. "I think you have to go back quite a ways to find a Ram team that has won on the road in the playoffs. These guys did this, with the resiliency they had, on a second short week with a long trip. I couldn't be more pleased with that type of effort."

Martz said home-field advantage is still a big factor in the playoffs.

"I think it is important," Martz said. "I think the more you make of it with your football team, the more it becomes an issue for you. The more you talk about fumbling the ball, the more apt they are to fumble the ball. The more you talk about dropping the ball, the more apt you are to drop the ball. The more you talk about how hard it is to win the road, then they buy into how hard it is. We've had a little deal where we just go play and don't worry about it."

The Rams went 2-6 on the road during the regular season, including a 34-17 loss to the Falcons on Sept. 19.

"I think an experienced team, particularly a young inexperienced team, will always struggle initially on the road until they learn how to win there," Martz said. "I think they'll be shocked when they go back and look at how they played four months ago. That's the kind of growth I think this team has had."

The Rams will be playing at the Georgia Dome for only the second time since their 23-16 win over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.

"I don't know how you measure that," Martz said of being familiar with the Georgia Dome. "Our last experience down there wasn't an especially fun one. I do think the familiarity is a plus for some of the veterans. I think if you look at the guys who have not played in that dome other than that other game (this season) that are on this roster, it will shock you.""

The Rams have only 10 players left on their roster from the team that celebrated winning the Super Bowl on the floor of the Georgia Dome.

Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick rushed for 109 yards on 12 carries in the earlier meeting this season against the Rams.

Asked if any NFL quarterback has a bigger impact on his team's games than Vick , Martz said, "You'd probably have an argument from Peyton Manning on that. (Vick) is probably the best athlete in the league, there is no question about that. The first thing you need to do is account for him when you play them."

The Rams won't practice until Wednesday as Martz wanted to give his players some extra time to mend.

"I just felt like having Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off would let them get back physically," Martz said. "We'll meet with them tomorrow and go over some things, but we won't practice tomorrow."