By Jim Thomas

They were down on personnel, down on their luck, and down 14-0 on the scoreboard just 10 minutes into the game.

Turns out the Rams were down. But not out.

A pair of fourth-quarter takeaways, one of which was returned 67 yards for a touchdown by Mike Furrey, rallied the Rams past New Orleans 28-17 Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

"There's a lot of reasons, or a lot of ways you could come up with an excuse to shut it down," safety Adam Archuleta said. "Or maybe feel sorry for yourself. I think this is a testament to our character."

The Rams took the field without their head coach, Mike Martz, who remains sidelined with a bacterial infection of the heart valve.

Four Rams Pro Bowlers did not suit up Sunday. Quarterback Marc Bulger, wide receiver Isaac Bruce and wide receiver Torry Holt were sidelined by injuries; and defensive end Leonard Little remained in North Carolina after the murder of his brother.

Before halftime, the Rams were minus starting cornerback Travis Fisher (groin injury) and backup corner Chris Johnson (back injury). Starting left guard Claude Terrell couldn't finish the game because of a sprained neck.

As if all that weren't enough, the Rams were getting badly outplayed in the first quarter. With Jamie Martin at quarterback in place of Bulger, the Rams managed only one first down until midway through the second quarter. The defense yielded touchdown passes by New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks on the Saints' first two offensive possessions of the game.

"Everything said: 'Fold, quit, fall down, let go,'" a Rams official said.

But it didn't happen.

"This was just like this whole season's been," defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "A lot of things have happened to us. Maybe not fair. Maybe calls weren't good.

"So are you going to sit around and sulk about it? Or are you going to come back and play better? You're a man. Answer the call. People are counting on you. That's what being a man is all about, and that's what you get paid to do. ... And I think we've got a bunch of men on this team who figured that out."

The Rams scratched out a second-quarter TD - on a 6-yard run by Steven Jackson. They regrouped defensively, blitzing more than they have at any time this season. They foiled a fake field-goal attempt by the Saints in the third quarter and blocked a John Carney field-goal attempt in the second (with Tyoka Jackson getting his left arm on the kick).

Nonetheless, the Rams still trailed 17-7 early in the fourth quarter after a 22-yard field goal by Carney. But then things started going St. Louis' way. And instead of having things snowball against the Rams, as has been the case several times this season, just the opposite occurred.

After the Carney field goal, the Rams finally got some decent field position on a 35-yard kickoff return by Terry Fair, who was subbing for the injured Johnson. A 42-yard pass from Martin to Kevin Curtis gave the Rams the ball on the New Orleans 6. On fourth and goal from the 1, Steven Jackson punched the ball across the goal line, trimming the Saints' lead to 17-14 with 9 minutes 33 seconds left in the game.

Two plays after the Steven Jackson score, Tyoka Jackson forced a fumble by tackling wide receiver Donte' Stallworth from behind on a reverse.

"The play is designed to get all the way outside on the defense and outrun everybody," Tyoka Jackson said.

But defensive end Anthony Hargrove turned the play in.

"I just continued to pursue it," Tyoka Jackson said. "Stallworth stopped and cut back, and there it is."

Archuleta, who also had two sacks Sunday, fell on the football at the New Orleans 42. That was the Rams' first defensive takeaway in four games, and St. Louis was back in the end zone just five plays later. On first and goal from the 5, Curtis raced to his right on a reverse for a touchdown and a 21-17 Rams lead with 5:58 to play.

It was similar to the botched play against the New York Giants three weeks ago. Only this time, it was Curtis on the end-around instead of Shaun McDonald - who couldn't handle a pitch from Steven Jackson against New York. And this time, Curtis got the ball on a handoff - not a pitch - from Jackson.

In the huddle, Curtis had a brief flashback to that Giants play.

"Right when they called it, it kind of crossed my mind," he said. "I just wanted to make sure that we got the exchange right and secured the ball. After that, it was just try and see what I could get."

Later in the quarter, Furrey's interception on a controversial play sealed the victory. Brooks threw what might have been a 25-yard completion to former Rams tight end Ernie Conwell with just over 2 minutes to play. But as Conwell fell backward trying to control the ball, Furrey swooped in, snatched the ball out of Conwell's hands and raced downfield for the victory-clinching TD.

The Saints thought Conwell had control of the ball and was down by contact before Furrey arrived. But referee Mike Carey and his crew saw it differently.

"The crew saw a bobbling pass reception with no control, and while the ball was still loose, it was taken away by the Rams and run for a touchdown," Carey told a pool reporter afterward.

The Saints were out of timeouts, so they couldn't challenge the play via the instant replay system. And since the play began with 2:10 to play, there could be no review by the replay official - as can be done after the 2-minute warning.

So the Rams headed to the locker room 3-4 and with renewed hope of salvaging what to date has been a disappointing season. Vitt received a game ball from his players after his first victory as interim head coach.

"I'm thinking about Jacksonville now," said Vitt, business as usual. "We've got one more game to the bye, and we've got to get to .500 now."