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Rams were primed to dominate Lions
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Before Monday, the Rams had played Detroit four times as a St. Louis-based franchise. All four contests were in Detroit, and all four were watershed games in varying degrees:
In the 1999 preseason finale, unheralded Kurt Warner gave everyone hope that things might be OK after all without Trent Green, whose season ended the week before with a knee injury against San Diego. In his first start, Warner was calm and efficient in a 17-6 Rams victory.
Eight weeks later, the Rams blew a late lead in a 31-27 loss, falling to 6-2 after a 6-0 start. Were they contenders or pretenders? They responded by winning 10 of their final 11 games, including Super Bowl XXXIV over Tennessee.
In Game 4 of the 2001 regular season, the Rams showed they were road warriors - and then some - with a 35-0 Monday night victory. It capped a tough season-opening stretch of three road games in four contests. (Which is the same way the Rams open this season.) The Rams ended up unbeaten on the road in '01.
In the 2003 regular-season finale, the Rams took a 20-10 lead into the second half and were only 30 minutes away from a 13-3 record and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. But they squandered the lead, lost 30-20 and were ousted by Carolina in their playoff opener.
With that as a backdrop, what do we make of Monday's 37-13 shellacking of Detroit in preseason Game No. 3?
The point total was the highest for the Rams in preseason play since Mike Martz took over as head coach in 2000.
"It's a preseason game," Martz cautioned. "Everybody takes a different look at how you approach these things."
And there's no doubt that the Rams put more into the Detroit game - mentally, emotionally, and in terms of game planning - than usual for the preseason.
"We had a little extra, and we had a lot of things specific for Detroit," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "And it worked."
After seeing his team go 3-7 on the road last season (regular season and playoffs), and play poorly 10 days ago in San Diego, Martz wanted to reverse that trend. So that was a major point of emphasis entering Detroit, particularly since the Rams open at San Francisco on Sept. 11, then travel to Arizona on Sept. 18.
"We're on the road the first two games, and this was the last exhibition game we had on the road," Bulger said. "So it was nice to prove to ourselves a little bit that we can win on the road. Preseason or not, it was Monday night. They came out in new uniforms, and were fired up a little bit, so we played well."
Detroit sported new black jerseys Monday.
Beyond playing well away from home, Martz also wanted to see the team crank up its overall intensity. He wanted better defense, particularly against the run. And he wanted a quick start and overall cohesiveness on offense. He got all of the above.
"We're two weeks away right now (from the regular season), and it's time," Bulger said. "That was pretty much our motto last week: It's time to get ready. It's not the preseason anymore. We need to hone our skills."
By October, even the most ardent Rams supporters will have a hard time remembering the scores of these preseason games. By December, they will be hard-pressed to remember even the opponents.
But if nothing else, the Detroit game provided a telling glimpse of the Rams' potential.
"I think we showed ourselves that, hey, we are a good team," offensive guard Tom Nutten said.
Interestingly, this came after a practice week in which Martz challenged the team in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to: Harsh words. Live tackling. No air conditioning in the indoor practice facility. Wind sprints before and after practice.
It all raised the question: Has Martz ever been so cranky? Bulger wouldn't quite go so far.
"I've been here five years now," Bulger said, smiling. "I've seen some things. But you know, it worked. Something worked. I think we deserved it, and we responded."
Running back Steven Jackson said: "He shook it up in the locker room. We had to come out and make an impressive performance on Monday night, let the league know that the Rams are planning to do something this year."
Was it impressive enough to get the air conditioning unit turned back on?
"I doubt that," Bulger said, now laughing. "I think he shipped it out."