By TOM KING, Telegraph Staff
kingt@telegraph-nh.com

Published: Saturday, Nov. 6, 2004

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It was a moment the New England Patriots will always savor – their first Super Bowl win three years ago in New Orleans, coming at the expense of the St. Louis Rams.

How much does that game have to do with Sunday’s rematch in St. Louis?

Absolutely nothing. Or at least that’s what the participants say.

“I think two-thirds of our roster has turned over since then,” Rams coach Mike Martz said. “So you have different varying strengths in terms of your roster on both sides of the ball and on special teams, and we try to take advantage of whatever it is and try to compensate for the other areas that we feel we’re a little weak in.

“It changes your emphasis. At that point, we were a really good offense and really solid, good defense. We had those guys together for a number of years and there was a great deal of confidence. The roster has changed so much, we have so many new faces and it is totally different for us now. You go in a different direction with wherever your personnel takes you.”

Some might think the Rams haven’t gone in the right direction since, missing the playoffs the following year and losing in the divisional round last year. Things have certainly changed, with Marc Bulger their new quarterback, as Kurt Warner moved on to the New York Giants.

But one thing remains the same – St. Louis is still the Greatest Show on Turf, one that Patriots Bill Belichick says he has watched very closely over the years – the ultimate compliment.

“They’re a team that every year in the off-season, I watch them,” Belichick said. “I study them. I try to learn more about the passing game from them so that I can implement certain aspects of it into our team. Our assistant coaches, Brian (Daboll), Josh (McDaniels) and Charlie (Weis), we spend time in the off-season watching them throw the ball, because in all honestly, nobody throws it better.”

Yet the Rams are only 4-3 and lost to Miami two weeks ago on the road before having a bye week. They rank fifth in the league, though, in passing offense, with Bulger throwing to receivers like Issac Bruce, Torry Hault, Shaun McDonald and Dane Looker. Of course, Marshall Faulk, a longtime Patriot nemesis, albeit one they manhandled in the Super Bowl, has rushed for 465 yards and caught 28 passes for 216. Rookie running back Steven Jackson is also averaging 5.7 yards a carry.

What’s a defense – especially one that will be without its starting corners, Ty Law and Tyrone Poole – to do?

“Mike Martz has as sophisticated and as tough of an offensive system to defend as anybody we have ever played,” Belichick said. “They have a lot of different personnel groups. They have a lot of different formations. They have a lot of different plays and they have good players and they are very good at them.

“When you walk into the meeting on Wednesday, you can’t stand up there in front of the team and say, ‘OK, here are the two things we have to take care of.’ There are 82 things and they might not do all of those and there could be 10 new things that you haven’t even talked about . . . ‘

The Rams, though, feel they could be doing better.

“You know, you want to be obviously like the Eagles are (and be) undefeated,” Bulger said. “But that’s not too realistic every year. We’re on top of our division. As long as we are in OK shape that if we can control our own destiny, which we can, then I think at the halfway point you can make a good run at it. But when you dig yourself a hole as we did two years ago (where) you’re 2-5 or 1-6, you’re really going to struggle.

“I think we’re in good shape now. Obviously, we blew a couple of games that I don’t think we should have, but we can still salvage the season pretty well.”

Martz says, though, he’s still watching the tape of the Super Bowl loss to try to pick up an edge. So yes, it is still relevant.

“You know, I get so wrapped up in the last few years in where we are, until we went back and looked at that game in preparation for this game, just to look at some things, it brought back a lot of memories,” he said. “That was a terrific football game. It was just a tremendous game and they absolutely deserved to win . . .

“We always go back and look at trends or tendencies on both sides of the ball and see the evolution, if there is anything, that (the Patriots) would go back and use. You just try to get a feel for an opponent and that is the last time we played them . . . “

The Patriots won that game by physically manhandling a finesse, fast Ram team. That solution hasn’t caused Martz to change his plan: The Rams still feel they can be the Greatest Show on Turf, or, as someone joked with Bulger the other day, a “Really Good Show on Turf.”

“We’ve always wanted to play “fast and furious”, so to speak, and try to keep the defense on the field as much as possible,” Martz said, “and not really let the defense ever set the tone of the game. That’s hard to do, you know, but you have to let things all hang out, so to speak, and we have the people to do that.”

The Patriots, though, hope they can handle those people on Sunday.