By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

It might feel like forever since the Rams last played, but in reality, it has been just a little more than a week since they lost to Miami.

Heading into the bye week it would have been easy to stew about the loss that dropped St. Louis to 4-3, but it was more important to look ahead than back. Like any disappointing loss, the Dolphins game was hard to swallow, but there was no time to rest for the Rams’ coaching staff with the task at hand this weekend.

As has been his custom, coach Mike Martz gave the players the week off and kept the staff working during the off time. The players were required to do some weight lifting and conditioning at least three times, but otherwise, they had the rest of the week as off time.

Martz said the plan has been effective in years past, so he wanted to stick by it.

“All of our byes have kind of fallen around the seventh, eighth, ninth week and when you look at camp and the preseason and the first half of the season, their bodies kind of need a break,” Martz said. “We have gone into bye with some pretty good records, undefeated at times, but still they need that body a chance to catch up. It seems to work pretty good.”

It has indeed, worked well for the Rams, who are 4-0 under Martz in games after a bye week. Last year, St. Louis came off the bye week with a convincing 36-0 win against Atlanta on Monday Night Football. St. Louis is going to need some more of that magic this weekend.

The Rams get a visit from defending world champion New England on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. The game certainly lost a little luster because of the Patriots’ loss to Pittsburgh yesterday, but it still carries a lot of weight for both teams for many reasons.

Primarily, the Rams want to get back on track after the loss to the Dolphins. Heading into Miami, that track appeared to be the fast one, headed straight for another NFC West Division championship. A prime opportunity to expand their lead was missed when the Rams had trouble stopping Miami from making big plays and making any big plays of their own. St. Louis remains undefeated in the division and is still the leader in the clubhouse.

Martz said winning the division is at the top of the priority list.

“For us right now, where we are, we are struggling to stay on top of the division any way we can,” Martz said. “That’s the most important thing. Obviously, the Patriots and the history we have with them is kind of special. We are just trying to get in and we are going the right direction, so we are going to try to stay on top of it.”

Now, St. Louis faces its tallest order yet in the form of the Patriots. The last time these two teams met, the stakes were much larger in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots won their first of two world titles in the past three years on kicker Adam Vinatieri’s field goal as time expired.

Since then, things have only gotten better for New England, which went on to win another Super Bowl last year. The Patriots won 21 consecutive games before losing to the Steelers, but they still boast one of the league’s best teams.

Like Pittsburgh, St. Louis is coming off a bye week the week before taking on the defending champions. That extra week worked out well for the Steelers and has definitely served the Rams well in recent years.

St. Louis returned to practice Monday, giving it an additional practice this week in preparation for the Patriots. Unlike in years past, the Rams spent the extra workout in full pads as opposed to shells.

“We have always been in shells and we come back in pads today and I thought practice was outstanding,” Martz said. “We have got so money young players… I thought it was beneficial.”

Every player spent his bye week a different way, but all came back with one common goal: beat New England and prepare for another playoff run.

INJURY REPORT: The opportunity to recover from injuries was also important for the Rams during the bye week. Defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson appears healthy after a hamstring injury and returned to practice Monday.

Jackson said he is happy to be back at work, but isn’t sure he is fully healthy yet.

“I don’t know if I’m 100 percent, we are going to see exactly where I am today because I plan on doing everything,”

Jackson said. “I feel really good, though, and I ran full speed all during the bye week. I think I am good enough to go.”

Jackson appeared good to go, playing at full throttle during one-on-one drills and showing good burst.

Chillar and receiver Dane Looker didn’t participate in practice and tight end Cameron Cleeland injured his left foot during the workout. Right tackle Grant Williams and defensive end Bryce Fisher, who suffered injuries in the Miami game both participated, but Williams appeared somewhat limited. The official injury report will be released Wednesday.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Look for a familiar name, but an unfamiliar face to start at middle linebacker against the Patriots this week. Hard-hitting Trev Faulk, who has been a special teams dynamo and replaced Chillar (hamstring) against the Dolphins, appears to have a firm grip on the starting job.

“He has seized the starting role at mike (middle) linebacker at this point, there is no question about that,” Martz said. “It’s his to lose.”

Robert Thomas started the season as the team’s middle linebacker, but he has battled an ankle sprain. Faulk gave a good glimpse at why he has earned the job in practice, hauling in a spectacular one-handed interception in seven-on-seven passing drills.

McBRIDE ARRIVES: The bye week is more than just an opportunity for players to get healthy and refocus for the rest of the season. It is a chance for the talent evaluators to look around and find possible help that might be available.

The Rams did just that, signing former Seattle cornerback Tod McBride. McBride’s career has been spent at corner, but he will make the switch to free safety as a Ram. To make room for McBride, St. Louis released kicker Jeff Chandler and moved running back Dusty McGrorty back to the practice squad.

McBride has spent time with Atlanta, the Seahawks and Green Bay before signing a one-year deal on Oct. 27. He had three interceptions, a career-high for the Falcons last season.

McBride is the next in a long line of safeties the Rams have tried to plug in for depth. He was with Seattle as recently as the first meeting with St. Louis at Qwest Field on Oct. 10. Others who have tried to handle the nickel and dime duties at safety include Tom Knight, Zack Bronson and Kwamie Lassiter.