By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
09/25/2004
Something is strangely amiss. A Saints-Rams game week has come and gone without New Orleans wide receiver Joe "Hollywood" Horn saying anything inflammatory before kickoff.

Horn has leveled many a zinger at the Rams in the past. But he did nothing but make nice this past week in New Orleans.

When asked by New Orleans reporters if this was still a big rivalry game for the Saints, he replied: "No. You want to know why? They've got a Super Bowl ring. They've been to multiple Super Bowls. ... I can't say nothing negative about them and try to spark a rivalry."

Huh?

And there's more.

"Coach (Mike) Martz has done a hell of a job," Horn said.

Take that!

What about former Saints tight end Cam Cleeland, now with the Rams, and his anti-Saints and anti-Jim Haslett remarks on Wednesday from Rams Park?

"That's just Cam getting off some frustrations that he felt," Horn said. "He and Kyle (Turley) had some issues that they didn't like (with the organization). But they're very good friends of mine, and I love them to death."

In your face!

In a conference call with St. Louis reporters, Haslett, the New Orleans coach, made it sound like he and Martz were bosom buddies. Strange, since in 2000 and 2001 - when the Saints and Rams played each other five times over a 12 1/2- month period - they looked very much like mortal enemies.

So perhaps this is some sort of a setup. Now a couple of years older and wiser, maybe Horn and Haslett are trying to kill the Rams with kindness.

Make no mistake, the Saints aren't going to be the least bit intimidated by the Rams' 15-game regular-season winning streak at the Edward Jones Dome. New Orleans has won its last two contests here, including one of only two regular-season losses by the NFC-champion Rams in 2001.

No Deuce McAllister (ankle) at running back? No problem. The Saints won here in 2000 with Jerald Moore and Chad Morton as their feature backs.

Besides, the Rams have more on their minds these days than whether the Saints remain a rival. They left the Georgia Dome on the short end of a 34-17 score to Atlanta last Sunday, bewildered by the scrambling sorties of Michael Vick and befuddled by a Falcons front four that played like the Fearsome Foursome.

Motivation?

"We don't need to look any further than the fact that we need a win," defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "Coming off a loss you need a win even more. It's just the way it feels. So we want to get back in the winner's column, get that good feeling again, and build off of it."

It's as simple as that. The last thing the Rams want to do is stub their toe at home against New Orleans, and then take a 1-2 record into road games at San Francisco (Oct. 3) and division-leading Seattle (Oct. 10).

"I don't know if you can say our backs are to the wall, but we need a win," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "You want to win on the road. I think that just continues to give your team that much confidence, it boosts the morale. You feel good. 'Hey, we can win on the road.' So there's no anxiety attack. There's no seed of doubt."

But failing that, it's an absolute necessity to hold serve at home.

"Any time you're trying to get back in the win column, it's always great to be home," Holt said. "Our fans are incredible when we're playing well. And I think they'll come out and support us this week. Our defense can use that energy, and use that charge to go out there and stop those guys."

Speaking of defense, the 34 points the Rams allowed Atlanta was their highest yield in 21 games - regular season and postseason. It's a group still looking for its first turnover and still searching for its personality under new coordinator Larry Marmie.

"We feel like we're a good defense," linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said.

But he added, "This will be a great time to prove ourselves and bounce back after that loss last week."

The Rams have been surprisingly vanilla so far on defense, unofficially blitzing only a dozen times in the opener against Arizona and only nine times against Atlanta.

"We've got some new things that we've held off because we've had some corners injured," Martz said. "But there's a lot of things defensively in terms of pressure, too, that we'd like to eventually get to."

Cornerback DeJuan Groce's knee injury has forced more shuffling in the secondary. Aeneas Williams has moved from free safety to cornerback; Jerametrius Butler has gone from left cornerback to right cornerback; Rich Coady has gone from fifth defensive back to starting free safety; and newly signed Kwamie Lassister has gone from unemployed to potentially the fifth defensive back.

All in a week when the opponent is the potent New Orleans passing game, featuring quarterback Aaron Brooks and talented wide receivers Horn and Donte Stallworth.

Beyond the St. Louis defense, there are also issues with special teams - or lack thereof; the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't running game; and just the overall energy level of the team. But this is no time for psychoanalysis, says quarterback Marc Bulger.

"Every week we can sit here and talk about what kind of team we are," Bulger said. "But as long as we know, from guy to guy in here that we're behind each other, and we're not panicking, then we'll be fine. ... We'll be able to steady the ship and win a lot of games."

And keep Horn's mouth shut.