By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Friday, Dec. 31 2004

As far as quarterback Marc Bulger is concerned, the Rams' offense has spent far
too much time bouncing between the 30-yard lines.

"We've been getting tons of yards all year, but points are more important,"
Bulger said. "Our confidence hasn't been shaken, but we do need some more
points."

Statistics support Bulger's point: The Rams are No. 6 in the 32-team NFL in
total offense, with an average of 359.9 yards a game. But their 19.1-point
average is good only for a 21st-place tie with Baltimore.

That trend could be problematic Sunday, when the Rams (7-8) and New York Jets
(10-5) clash at the Edward Jones Dome, with both teams' playoff aspirations
hanging in the balance. The Jets have the sixth-ranked defense in the league
(293.3 yards a game), but are even more adept at keeping the scoreboard quiet.

They're giving up just 15.3 points a game, third best in the league behind
Philadelphia (14.8) and Pittsburgh (15.1) - the top postseason seeds in the NFC
and AFC, respectively.

The Rams, who scored in bunches in the days of the "Greatest Show on Turf,"
have topped 30 points just once this year. And that came in an overtime victory
in Seattle, 33-27. More recently, the offense was limited to a total of seven
points in losses at Carolina and Arizona, while Bulger was sidelined with a
bruised shoulder.

Bulger returned Monday night against Philadelphia, connecting on 20 of 27
passes for 225 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Isaac Bruce.
Bulger said that "in warm-ups, it took a little while" to work out the
tenderness in his throwing shoulder.

"And then after, it was a little sore," he said. "But during the game, I think
adrenaline takes over." He reported Friday that his arm is "not 100 percent
yet, but it feels a little better each day."

Decals go without fine


Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt weren't sanctioned by the NFL for
wearing a "92" decal on their helmets in Monday night's game, a tribute to the
late Reggie White. They could have been subject to a minimum $5,000 fine.

A league official said the three were warned that they were not permitted to
display personal messages on any part of the uniform.

"I thank the league," Holt said. "If they would've fined us, then I'd have been
OK with it, because we felt like we were doing something good. Reggie did so
many great things for the National Football League. A lot of us looked up to
him - offensive and defensive players - because he set the standard for guys in
the league."

Stemke makes impact

Punter Kevin Stemke is making his head coach look good. Martz released veteran
Sean Landeta after 10 games - a move that puzzled some observers at the time -
and hired Stemke to replace him.

Landeta averaged 43.3 yards on 40 punts, compared with Stemke's 39.8 norm on 21
punts. But net average is what counts most, and Stemke has the edge there: 36.0
yards to Landeta's 32.5. Also, Stemke has dropped 10 punts inside the 20-yard
line; Landeta did that just nine times.

"As the weeks go by, I'm hitting the ball better and better," said Stemke, a
former Ray Guy Award winner at Wisconsin as the nation's top punter. "We're
pinning the teams back inside the 20 when we get the opportunity, so I'm
pleased with that. ... Our whole punt team is performing very effectively right
now."

Stemke, whose only previous NFL experience came during two games for Oakland in
2002, emphasized that his showing this year doesn't guarantee him a job with
the Rams next season.

"It starts all over; it's a business," he said. "I would love to be here, and
as long as I keep hitting the ball as well as I think I should be, I hope to
get that opportunity. Unfortunately, a lot of that stuff is out of my hands."

Rift with Parcells

It's a safe bet that the newest Ram, center-guard Matt Lehr, won't be inviting
his former coach, Bill Parcells, to his next dinner party. "Parcells and I
didn't see eye to eye," Lehr said. "He wasn't going to bring me back next year,
so he just let me go."

Lehr, 6 feet 2 and 304 pounds, started all 16 games at center last season for
the Dallas Cowboys. But this year, he was reduced to spot-starter and backup
duty before being released this week.

"It's just a rough situation. There's a lot of politics involved," said Lehr, a
fourth-year pro from Virginia Tech. "I made a lot of good friends down there.
But it was about time for a change, and now I'm here."

Lehr, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, said he was
unsure about his future with the Rams. "I'm just trying to feel my way around
right now," he said, "trying to pick up as much stuff as I can in practice and
in meetings, and just go from there."

Injury clarification

The injury to rookie running back Steven Jackson's right knee is a slightly
torn posterior cruciate ligament, not the medial collateral ligament, as
previously reported by the Rams. Surgery is not required. ... The Rams have a
six-game winning streak over the Jets, dating to 1983. ... The Rams haven't
lost at home in December since the 1997 season, a span of 12 games.