Rams are in 'must win' situation
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Jan. 01 2005
During the week, no one was seen doing the Dirty Bird at Rams Park, in honor of
the Atlanta Falcons. But at least one Rams employee was heard humming "Hail to
the Redskins," in honor of Washington's NFL franchise.
Why? Because the Rams earn their fifth playoff berth in six seasons Sunday with
a victory over the New York Jets coupled with either a Washington victory over
Minnesota, or an Atlanta triumph over Seattle.
Will there be a New Orleans-style moment at the Edward Jones Dome? In the 2000
regular-season finale, the Rams needed a Christmas Eve victory at New Orleans
coupled with a Chicago victory over Detroit to squeeze into the playoffs at
Well, the Rams took care of the Saints 26-21. Some Rams were milling about on
the field, others had already made it to the locker room, when they got the
news: Chicago had defeated Detroit 23-20 on Paul Edinger's career-long, 54-
yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining.
"I hadn't even gotten to the end zone, when Ricky Proehl came out and said,
'Hey, we're in! We're in!' " coach Mike Martz recalled. "It was bedlam after
But there's a difference to Sunday's matchup, which makes the contest even more
intriguing. In 2000, the game meant nothing to New Orleans, which already had
clinched the NFC West and the No. 3 seed in the NFC.
This time, the game means something to the Rams and the Jets. The
New Yorkers come to town with a 10-5 record, but after a 5-0 start are only
5-5. If the Jets win Sunday, they're in. They can get in if they lose, but only
if either Buffalo or Denver loses.
In 1995, the Rams closed their inaugural season in St. Louis with a Christmas
Eve game against Miami. The Rams were also 7-8 at the time, identical to their
current record, and had a chance to earn a wild-card berth.
But about 17 things had to happen that day for the Rams to get in. They didn't.
In a game that ended shortly after the Rams took the field against the
Dolphins, Atlanta clinched the final NFC playoff spot with a 28-27 victory over
The Rams went on to lose 41-22 to Miami in what proved to be Don Shula's final
regular-season game as Dolphins head coach. The Dolphins, by the way, earned
the No. 6 seed in the AFC that day by virtue of their victory over the Rams
coupled with an Oakland loss to Denver.
This time, the Rams' chances of making the playoffs are much more real than
they were in '95, because only two things have to happen: A Rams win and a
Seattle loss. Or a Rams win and a Minnesota loss.
Like the Rams-Jets affair, the Minnesota-Washington game is a noon contest. For
that matter, so is the Pittsburgh- Buffalo game. So there could be some serious
scoreboard- watching taking place on both sidelines Sunday in the dome.
But not by Martz.
"There's too much going on," Martz said. "I'm looking at the playcards. Or
yakking with the officials, jawing with them."
How about you, Isaac Bruce?
"Oh man," Bruce said. "I don't even know the (playoff) scenarios. But I do
watch the scores every week. So I probably will."
Quarterback Marc Bulger does know the scenarios and concedes that he may sneak
"If we get a little break and maybe we get the lead, we'll be peeking up
there," Bulger said. "But it's not going to affect how we play. We have to take
care of business. And knowing that Seattle doesn't play until later, it'd be
foolish to look up there anyway."
The Seattle-Atlanta contest doesn't start until 3:05 p.m. St. Louis time. Keep
in mind, if the Rams win and the Vikings lose, St. Louis gets a wild-card
berth. However, if the Rams win and Seattle loses, the Rams are NFC West
champions for the fourth time in six years, and get a home game in the first
round of the playoffs.
After all the ups and downs, injuries, blowups, controversies, and brush fires
of this 2004 season, any kind of playoff berth for St. Louis would be quite an
accomplishment. Even at 8-8.
"Winning always cures a lot of things," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "I'm
sure that'll be the case if we win and move on. People will forget about what's
been said, and things that have been done this year. I know I will, because
it's almost like a new season, like a new year. So we'll see."
Simply the opportunity to be in this position, Holt said, "is exciting. It's a
challenge for us. We have to take care of our business - first things first -
and then we'll go from there."
The Jets figure to be a formidable challenge. On offense, they have a solid
offensive line, one of the game's top running backs in Curtis Martin, and a
dynamic quarterback in Chad Pennington.
On defense, they have a stout front seven, and have gotten younger, faster, and
more aggressive under first-year coordinator Donnie Henderson, former secondary
coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
"They play with a great deal of passion on offense and defense," Martz said.
"Defensively, they're a lot like Baltimore. Very multiple with their fronts,
and a lot of pressure. I like what they do."
The last time the Rams played the Jets - in 2001 - just about nobody liked what
With his Super Bowl-bound Rams leading 31-7 late in the third quarter, Martz
dialed up an onside kick on the hapless Jets. It created a firestorm of
criticism both nationally and locally, fueled in part by the fact that the game
was played in the media capital of the world - the New York City area.
"I remember the game very well," Martz said. "We were just doing whatever we
could to win the game. I was taken aback, I guess, by the reaction to it. I
wasn't prepared for it. I didn't understand it."
Martz pointed out that the Jets had rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit to
beat Miami in the week prior to that game. He noted that the Rams blew a 24-6
halftime lead to Kyle Turley and the Saints the week after that game. His
point? No lead is safe in the NFL, especially late in the third quarter.
"You can't let up off the gas pedal in the third quarter of a game," Martz
said. "You just can't."
Nonetheless, Martz was criticized sharply for the tactic after the game. One
New York newspaper account called it a "slap in the face" to the Jets. Another
said Martz was a bully with more toys than anyone else in the NFL. Yet another
account called Martz: "One of the great villains in all professional football."
More than any other game, that 2001 Jets contest cemented Martz's image as a
"I don't know what to tell you there," Martz said. "But I certainly have that
Should the Rams squeeze out a playoff berth Sunday, Martz will be a villain who
has guided his team to a fourth playoff berth in five years as a head coach.
And once a team gets into Paul Taglialbue's postseason party, all things are
"It's the playoffs," Bruce said. "Anything can happen. Anything goes. Pretty
much like the NCAA Tournament."
Re: Rams are in 'must win' situation
For the first time in history and AFC and NFC team meet in the playoffs aside from the SB. That's basically what this is, a playoff game. It may not bare the title Wild Card or such but it's all the same. You lose you go home. You win, well here's the difference, you may get to play another day. The RAMS have to look at it as they win and thier in no matter what.