Posted: Saturday October 15, 2005 12:59AM; Updated: Saturday October 15, 2005 12:59AM

By Bob Harris, Special to SI.com
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch'sJim Thomas framed it earlier this week: "In a sense, Steve Fairchild has been handed the keys to the car. He certainly didn't want them under these circumstances, but they're his nonetheless."
For as long as head coach Mike Martz, sidelined with a bacterial infection of the heart, is out of action someone has to run the offense.
And the logical choice is Fairchild -- the team's offensive coordinator since joining Martz's staff in 2003. Fairchild and Martz have a long association. In 1976, Martz was an assistant coach at Mesa Community College in San Diego. His quarterback there in 1976 and 1977 was Fairchild.
As Thomas noted, back in the days when 20-25 passes marked a good day's work for a college offense, Martz had Mesa throwing twice that much and using four wide receivers. It was a radical approach for the time.
Still, Fairchild earned All-American honors and became the first JUCO player to pass for 5,000 yards in a season.
"Nobody was really used to seeing one-back sets [and] teams throwing it aggressively on first and second down," Fairchild said. "It was fun. You were doing things nobody else was doing, and it was working. I'm sure that was cool for Mike. It certainly was cool for the guys that played for him."
Thomas noted that since hiring him away from the Bills, Martz has talked about eventually turning over play-calling duties to Fairchild. Before the 2004 season, Martz said he planned to let Fairchild call plays in some preseason games.
But it never happened. The Rams struggled offensively in their first two preseason games that summer, so Martz kept calling plays in an attempt to make things right.
Now Martz has no choice. He is in the hospital under a doctor's order, and the earliest he can return to coaching is supposed to be late November.
So far, the workload hasn't been much different for Fairchild. He's formulating the game plan for Monday night's game in Indianapolis as he would in any other week.
In the past, Fairchild always has prepared as if he were formulating the game plan -- and calling plays -- and then he and Martz would compare notes.
"But probably the biggest difference is that normally Mike is there making the final call on some of the stuff," Fairchild said. "And now I'll do that."
Until joining the Bills in 2001, Fairchild had spent his entire coaching career in the college ranks, where for the most part he ran offenses and called plays.
Now, he gets to do it in the NFL.