By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Monday, Nov. 15 2004

The Rams will be home for the holidays, closing the regular season with games
against Philadelphia (Dec. 27) and the New York Jets (Jan. 2).

But if they are to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, they
must get something done on the road, ASAP. That's because the only time the
Rams play in the Edward Jones Dome until after Christmas is Dec. 5, against San
Francisco.

Sunday's game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in suburban Buffalo begins a string of
four road games in five contests for the Rams - a stretch that will largely
make or break their playoff chances.

"It's a dangerous thing to talk about," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "I think
the more you talk about it, the more the players get the idea that you don't
think you can win on the road."

In other words, the more Martz talks about the difficulties of winning on the
road, the more the players are prone to start thinking about ... how tough it
is to win on the road.

"You just prepare and go play," Martz said. "That's what we did in Seattle and
San Francisco. And you just don't pay much attention to it."

The Rams are 2-2 on the road this year, with the victories coming in October in
Seattle and San Francisco.

"You know Seattle was probably as loud a crowd as we've ever played in front
of," Martz said. "And we handled it very well."

Well, at least they did after falling behind 24-7 at halftime. The Rams rallied
for a 33-27 overtime triumph.

"I think the younger players will take their lead off our veterans," Martz
said. "I think they know how to respond. We talk to them about the environment
that they'll walk into, and then put it to rest."

No "St. Louis" Rams playoff team has finished a regular season with a losing
road record:

Last season's NFC West championship team went 4-4 away from home.

The '99 Super Bowl championship team, and the 2000 wild- card squad,
finished 5-3 on the road.

The '01 Super Bowl runner-up became only the sixth team since the
1970 AFL-NFL merger to go unbeaten on the road. Not only was that Rams team 8-0
away from home, it won those contests by an average of 14.6 points a game.

"There's a significant number of (2001) players still on this team," Martz
said. "Last year, I think we turned the corner when we went on the road and
beat Chicago, particularly Pittsburgh, and Arizona in some really tight
ballgames."

But can the Rams turn the corner this season?

It takes a certain amount of focus and mental toughness to deal with hostile
crowd noise, relatively unfamiliar settings, the general wear-and-tear of
travel and - for a dome team such as the Rams - the weather.

"If those kinds of things bother a football team, then that's the toughness
that we're trying to work into," Martz said. "I guess the confidence and the
attitude that has been lacking in the last few weeks has to be re-established.
And I think when you're confident and you have a great attitude ... then you
don't pay any attention to that stuff."

Since their move to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams are 4-9 in games where the
temperature was below 50 degrees at kickoff. Two of those four victories came
last season at Chicago (48 degrees), and at Cleveland (35 degrees).

Weather could be a factor Sunday at Buffalo; Nov. 29 at Green Bay (a Monday
night game); and Dec. 12 at Carolina. However, the Sunday forecast for Buffalo
isn't bad, calling for a high temperature of 52 with a 30 percent chance of
showers.

Weather shouldn't be a problem in the last of the Rams' remaining road games -
a Dec. 19 contest vs. Arizona. But the Cardinals usually play pretty well at
home - they're 3-1 in Tempe so far this season. Similarly, Buffalo is 3-2 at
home, despite an overall mark of 3-6.

Conversely, Carolina is winless at home (0-4), and the Packers aren't nearly as
tough at Lambeau Field (2-3) as they've been in the past.

One other thing to keep in mind as the shopping days dwindle to Christmas:
While the Rams are trying to get things done on the road, NFC West rival
Seattle will be playing five of its final seven games at home. The Seahawks
have won 11 of their past 12 there, dating to late in the 2002 season. The only
loss in those 12 games was that overtime setback to the Rams on Oct. 10.

If nothing else, Sunday's 23-12 home victory over the Seahawks has given the
Rams renewed hope.

"I know we haven't played as well as we wanted to," safety Rich Coady said.
"But if we get this thing rolling, and continue to play better every week, and
we play our best defensive football at the end of the year, and get that
snowball effect going, I think the sky's the limit for our team."

That's a lot of ifs. But stranger things have happened.