By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
12/22/2005



When Jamie Martin got knocked silly in Houston four Sundays ago, it looked for all the world as if he was finished for the season. And at age 35, perhaps finished for his career.

But since engineering the Rams' miracle comeback that day in relief of Martin, rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled. Interim head coach Joe Vitt is doing his best to disguise his quarterback intentions this week, but all signs point to Martin on Christmas Eve against the San Francisco *****.

When asked Thursday if he had decided on his starting quarterback, Vitt said: "I have, but I'm not going to announce it."

Maybe so, but it was Martin - and not Fitzpatrick - taking the reps with the starting unit in practice Thursday.

"I wouldn't read anything into that," said Vitt, who seems to enjoy a good game of cat and mouse with the media.

Actually, you can read a lot into it. Martin took the reps with the starters Wednesday and Thursday, which is always a tell-tale sign. Even with the team's 5-9 record, Vitt is playing to win. At the end of the day, 7-9 looks a lot better than 5-11. If disguising his QB intentions gives his team the slightest edge, leading to even a bit of uncertainty for San Francisco, Vitt is willing to do so.

On Wednesday, Vitt had indicated that Fitzpatrick's body and arm were sore and that Fitzpatrick would work with the starters Thursday. But that wasn't the case Thursday. Fitzpatrick worked with the scout team.

When asked Thursday about any soreness for Fitzpatrick, Vitt said, "I didn't ask him today. He looked all right to me."

Martin quarterbacked the Rams to victories over New Orleans and Jacksonville in late October after Marc Bulger's first shoulder injury. When Bulger reinjured the shoulder a month later, Martin was back in the starting lineup Nov. 27 in Houston. But Martin didn't make it out of the first quarter at Reliant Stadium, suffering a blow to the head that resulted in blurred vision and a concussion.

"It was a thing that I needed to kind of rest that week," Martin said. "Wait for the symptoms of the concussion to kind of go away. Everything's fine now."

So Martin is on course to make his seventh career start - but fourth of this season - Saturday against the *****.

"It'd be fun," Martin said. "It's fun to go out there and compete. It doesn't matter what your record is, or what the other team's record is. You're playing an NFL game, and you're out there competing with great players."

Martin hopes the crowd gets into it for what will be the final home game of the season. That hasn't always been the case this year at the Edward Jones Dome.

"The environment's a little disappointing," Martin said. "You would like to think that if you like to watch football, and you like your team, and you like to have fun, the environment would be really good all the time. It's a little disappointing. It doesn't have the same feel. But once you're on the field, all that stuff goes away anyway."

For Martin to make such comments about the level of fan support in the dome is telling, because he has been in the background most of his career and is anything but outspoken.

In any event, Martin has been through this pinch-hitting role many times as a quarterback.

"I guess it's part of the job description, just to be ready," Martin said.

Even though he has come and gone several times from the Rams' organization over the years, he has been around for several of these Rams-***** games. He has a deeper appreciation than most for the rivalry, because along with wide receiver Isaac Bruce, he came to St. Louis from Southern California with the Rams in 1995.

"Yeah, I grew up in California, too," Martin said. "And just watching the Rams and the ***** (growing up), it means a lot to me. Obviously, both teams are down right now. So it's not as big as it has been in the past. But once you're on the field playing, every team's the same."

But as a longtime Ram, Martin does hate the *****, right?

"I don't hate anyone," he said.