By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Tuesday, Dec. 28 2004

Go ahead, Eagles, just try to play your junior varsity against the Rams.

On a night when Philadelphia was playing for nothing, and the Rams were
fighting for survival, the Rams showed good survival instincts. With
Philadelphia either resting or pulling many of its regulars, the Rams kept
their flickering playoff hopes alive Monday with a dominating 20-7 victory at
the Edward Jones Dome.

"We should dominate," said Isaac Bruce, who just missed his seventh 100-yard
receiving game of the season with eight catches for 98 yards. "They've got
second- and third-team guys out there."

True, in terms of personnel, the Eagles (13-2) didn't exactly go with their
best. But for the Rams (7-8), who had lost six of their previous eight games, a
win is a win is a win.

"It's been a long time since we smiled in the locker room after the game,"
defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "It seems like a month, because that's
probably true."

"But Coach (Mike Martz) always told us if it's a Pro Bowler or it's a pigeon,
you play the same way. We had a good day against the guys that won't see the
field too often."

Rediscovering the St. Louis running game, Martz handed the ball off early and
often to both Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk.

Yes, Steven Jackson. After sitting out the Arizona game in a befuddling set of
circumstances, Jackson was in the game Monday. And even Martz had to know about
it.

As for anybody who didn't, Jackson had this suggestion: "You can watch it on
ESPN."

By halftime alone, the Rams had 163 yards rushing - which was higher than their
total for the entire game in any of their previous five contests.

Jackson left the game in the fourth quarter with a bruised right knee and a
career-high 148 yards rushing on 24 carries. He had missed the Carolina game
with a sprained right knee, and then didn't play a down in Arizona game - a
circumstance that Martz said he was unaware of at the time.

Jackson certainly made his presence felt Monday. The revived running game, plus
the return of Marc Bulger at quarterback, sparked the Rams to a 17-7 lead
midway through the third quarter. Bulger finished with 20 completions in 27
attempts for 225 yards and a season-high 110.9 passer rating.

When Bulger completed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce with 7 minutes 38
seconds to play in the third, he had completed 12 of 17 passes for 116 yards
and a 108.9 passer rating.

The Rams needed to win Monday to stay alive in the playoff race. A loss to the
Eagles, who already have clinched home-field advantage in the NFC, would
eliminate St. Louis.

At 7-8, the Rams can still clinch the NFC West with a victory Sunday at home
against the New York Jets coupled with a Seattle loss to Atlanta. Even if
Seattle wins, the Rams can clinch a wild-card berth with a victory over the
Jets, coupled with a Minnesota loss at Washington.

"At least we have a chance," Bulger said. "We're not completely out of it.
Usually with eight losses you are. We have something to play for."

Faulk started, but on the second play of the game, Jackson came out and joined
Faulk in a two-back set.

Faulk split out to the right as a wide receiver, and then Jackson got the ball
and raced 28 yards around left end. That got the crowd going and got the Rams
into Philly territory just two plays into the game.

With Jackson and Faulk sharing the workload, Martz called runs on 10 straight
plays. Pssst. That's as many runs as the Rams had in the entire Arizona game
last week.

On carry No. 10 on the 10-play drive, Jackson made a nifty cutback up the
middle, scoring his third NFL touchdown on a 5-yard run. All told, Jackson
carried six times for 46 yards on the drive. Faulk had four carries for 27.

Bulger, in his first start since suffering a bruised throwing shoulder Dec. 5,
didn't throw his first pass of the game until just 54 seconds remained in the
opening quarter, completing a quick slant to Torry Holt for 12 yards and a
first down.

The impressive ground game may have caught the fans - and the Eagles' defense -
by surprise. But the Philly offense didn't miss a beat. In Donovan McNabb's
only series of the game, the Eagles drove 63 yards in 12 plays for a matching
touchdown, tying the score at 7-7 late in the first quarter. The Eagles
converted three third-down plays on the possession, twice beating Rams blitzes
to move the chains.

After throwing a 7-yard TD pass to wide receiver Fred Mitchell, who drew
coverage from safety Antuan Edwards, McNabb gave way to Koy Detmer.

The Eagles didn't even suit up running back Bryan Westbrook or Pro Bowl right
tackle Tra Thomas on Monday. But given the state of this highly disappointing
season for the Rams, St. Louis wasn't complaining. By late in the third
quarter, Philadelphia was going with only three of its usual starters on
defense.

It became August in December in the fourth quarter for Philadelphia, when
third-string quarterback Jeff Blake replaced Detmer. For the Eagles, the game
had all the feel of a preseason contest. But the Rams kept playing their
regulars, because they needed the victory.

Besides the TDs by Jackson and Faulk, the Rams got two field goals by Jeff
Wilkins. The second came from 29 yards with 5:24 to play, giving the Rams a
20-7 lead. It followed a sack and forced fumble by Bryce Fisher against Blake,
and a fumble recovery and return by linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.