Rams primed for upset in Atlanta
By Chris Ruddick, NFL Analyst
(Sports Network) - Following an embarrassing loss to the Arizona Cardinals back on December 19, the St. Louis Rams were 6-8 with losses in four of their last five games. You can pretty much bet that nobody in Rams country was thinking about the playoffs at that time, let alone a tilt with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
But, thanks to wins in their last two regular season games, St. Louis earned the fifth seed in the NFC and on Saturday became the first team in NFL history with a non-winning record to win a postseason game, courtesy of a 27-20 triumph over the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field.
Marc Bulger threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns with an interception in the win and tossed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Cam Cleeland with 2:11 left in the game to lock up the win.
"In years past, the experience that we had, we were at a high level going into the playoffs and you kind of wanted to rest your guys a little bit, but thatís not the case now," said head coach Mike Martz. "We are rested."
Now, the Rams turn their attention to Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons, who won the NFC South with an 11-5 record and enjoyed a bye last week as the second seed in the conference.
St. Louis is all too familiar with the Falcons, having lost to them by a 34-17 margin in Week 2, The Rams are also no strangers to the Georgia Dome, as they played there every year from 1995 through 2001, when the Falcons were still in the NFC West.
The Rams also won Super Bowl XXXIV there over Tennessee in 1999.
"I do think that the familiarity probably is there for some of the veterans," Martz said. "But then you figure how many (younger) guys had not played in that dome before, other than this season's game - it will shock you."
No matter how good it is playing, St. Louis knows its backs are against the wall this week. Since the current 12-team playoff format began in 1990, NFC teams that have the first-round bye are 25-3 in the divisional round.
St. Louis is very well aware of the second seed getting upset, though, as one of those three upsets occurred last January 10, when the second-seeded Rams lost at home to eventual NFC champion Carolina, 29-23 in double overtime. The only other NFC playoff teams with first-round byes to lose in the divisional round were Chicago (to Philadelphia) in the 2001 season, and San Francisco (to Green Bay) in 1995 - both of those teams were second seeds as well.
"Itís like I told the team a few weeks ago, itís like a whole new season," Martz added. "We have been injured, and all of these things happened to us, but now these guys are energized. Itís like the season has just begun in their mind. Thatís the enthusiasm that they have. This is a totally different experience than weíve had in the past."
INJURIES: The Rams came out of the Seattle game relatively healthy with the exception of defensive end Tyoka Jackson, who is nursing a sprained ankle. He will likely be listed as questionable this week.
Also, guard Tom Nutten will play with an injured left knee, despite being helped off the field on Saturday.
"Since 1999, his nickname has been 'Lazarus' - he's always raised up," Martz said.
UP NEXT: The Rams head to Atlanta this week to face the Falcons at the Georgia Dome.
The Rams hold a 46-24-2 edge in the all-time series with Atlanta, and had won seven in a row in the series prior to the loss in Week 2 .St. Louis last defeated Atlanta in 2003, by a 36-0 count, and last won a road game in the series during the 2001 regular season.
Saturday will mark the first-ever postseason meeting between the teams.
Martz enters Sunday's game with a career record of 5-1 versus Atlanta.