Thursday, December 29, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

At this point in the season with the playoffs out of the picture and a record below expectations, most teams would be searching for anything to motivate them to finish out the year strong.

Some teams embrace the opportunity to allow their young players as many repetitions as possible. Others look at the schedule and hope for opportunities to spoil the chances of other teams. Those teams are called spoilers.

At 5-10 with a game against playoff contender Dallas, which would be one possible incentive to get the Rams fired up for the season finale on New Year’s Day.

“It’s definitely important,” cornerback Ron Bartell said. “You want to win every game you play, and this is just an added incentive. We’re going home, so we want to send as many people with us as possible.”

But, for the most part, the Rams aren’t exactly embracing that role. More than anything, St. Louis wants to get a win to end its four-game losing streak and get at least a part of that sour taste in its mouth to go away as it heads into the offseason.

“We just desperately need to try to find a way to win a game,” middle linebacker Trev Faulk said. “You can call it a spoiler or whatever, but we’re just going in trying to win a game, trying to find a way to get a victory and stop the bleeding.”

In reality, it looks like the chance to play the spoiler might not even be a possibility by the time the ball if kicked on Sunday evening. Dallas is 9-6 and needs help to have a shot at making the playoffs. By the time the game does begin, the Cowboys will know whether they need to win or not to have a shot.

In addition to beating the Rams, Dallas needs a loss for the Redskins against Philadelphia, a Panthers loss to Atlanta or a tie and a Washington loss. Not to say any of those scenarios are far-fetched, but they aren’t exactly getting the Rams fired up to play.

Instead, the Rams are playing for what the same thing they have played for the past month…pride.

“This is the last game you’re going to play for a long time, so you have to go out there and give it your all and play,” receiver Shaun McDonald said. “You have to play for your pride and for your teammates, so it’s going to be a good game Sunday night. We’re going to be up for this game. I don’t know if we’re really thinking about that. We’re just thinking about getting a win. We haven’t won in a lot of games in a row, so we’re worried about getting this win.”

It is a strange feeling for the Rams to not be preparing for the playoffs and heading into this weekend knowing that it will definitely be their last this season. For a team that has been to the playoffs five of the past six years, that isn’t a feeling that sits too well.

Interim coach Joe Vitt said that bad feeling is all the incentive his team should need heading to Dallas.

“I’ve made this statement, when you know the season’s coming to an end, you know what the date is, it’s depressing,” Vitt said. “There are going to be a lot of us next week in a state of depression. We get to Wednesday and Thursday, you should be in short-yards, goal line meetings, this is a seven-on-seven meeting, this is when practice starts, [and] its just not there. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, but it gives us a chance to take it out on Dallas on Sunday night.”

FUTURE GREASE?: Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett has been one of the few bright spots for the Rams defense this season, ranking near the top of the team in tackles and consistently eating up multiple blockers.

It has probably been Pickett’s best season as a pro and he picked a fine time to have it as he approaches unrestricted free agency.

“Of course I think about it; I’ve thought about it a lot this past week,” Pickett said. “Then playing this last home game I thought about it. Quite possibly this is my last game as a Ram.”

Pickett has proved to be among the better tackles in the league this year and has spent his entire career as a Ram.

“Obviously I love being here, so I hope it’s not,” Pickett said. “I’m just going to play and let the chips fall where they may.”

While Pickett’s future as a Ram remains uncertain, he said he would like to continue playing in St. Louis.

“Most definitely,” Pickett said. “That is what I told my agent. Hopefully we can get things worked out, because I would love to be here and just keep building and make something out of the situation. I would hate to leave, especially on a bad note like this.”

MARTIN FEELING BETTER: Quarterback Jamie Martin was so sick Wednesday afternoon that he left practice about halfway through because he felt like he had to vomit.

Martin returned to practice Thursday feeling better and took all of the repetitions with the first team.

“I’m feeling better,” Martin said. “Luckily it was a quick thing. Hopefully it’s past me now and I can get some fluids and recover. It could have been worse. It could have been over the weekend.”

Martin started last week against the ***** and threw for 354 yards. Earlier in the week, Vitt announced that Martin would start again this weekend. That was before Martin fell ill Wednesday. Martin is still listed as probable on the injury report, but appeared fine during Thursday’s workout.

Even with the illness, Martin said had there been a game Wednesday, he would have played through the sickness.

“If there was a game yesterday, I wouldn’t have disappeared,” Martin said. “Maybe for a minute, but I would have been right back out there.”

INJURY REPORT: The flu bug that has been biting the Rams continued to attack Thursday, this time getting a hold of running back Marshall Faulk and linebacker Brandon Chillar.

Chillar practiced through the illness and isn’t on the injury report, but Faulk wasn’t at the afternoon workout. Faulk is listed as probable along with Martin, defensive tackle Brian Howard (illness), running back Steven Jackson (hip) and defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson (groin).

Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (hamstring/shoulder), defensive tackles Jimmy Kennedy (groin) and Damione Lewis (knee) and receiver Dane Looker (knee) are questionable. Both Jacksons, Kennedy and Faulk missed a portion of practice.