By Jeff Gordon
ONLINE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Sunday, Oct. 30 2005

The consensus from the e-mails, Rams Talk entries and our blog comments is
pretty clear. Ram Nation has embraced interim coach Joe Vitt as a welcome
change of pace from the Mad Mike Martz Experience.

He is a plain-speaking, old-school coach. He emphasizes the same points fans
harp on -- and he is nearly as blunt, too.

In Vitt’s third game filling in for Martz as head coach, the Rams pounded out a
24-21 victory over Jacksonville. This was not a stylish or highly entertaining
game, but it did feature lots of hits on both sides of the ball.

The Rams won because Steve Jackson ran through, over and around the Jaguars.
They won because they blocked a punt for a touchdown and forced timely
turnovers that offset their own mistakes.

Martz was home watching on TV. Injured stars Marc Bulger, Torry Holt and Isaac
Bruce watched the victory from the Rams sidelines. The old “Air Martz” offense
is back in the hangar, perhaps for good.

So the Rams offensive game plan was rather plain and old school. Offensive
coordinator Steve Fairchild let back-up quarterback Jamie Martin take a few
shots downfield, but that was done to keep the Jaguars defense honest.

Martin put the ball up just 21 times overall. His backs, meanwhile, got 31
carries. Jackson rambled for 179 yards on 25 carries – against a team that
prides itself in run defense.

“(Martin) played within himself,” Vitt said during his post-game this
conference. “The game plan called for that. We have to play a certain way right
now. We’re banged up.”

Also, different tacticians are in charge of the game.

“This is the kind of game Mike Martz would have loved to coach,” Vitt said. “He’
d go with empty backfields . . . and motions and screw with people.

“We can’t do that now because Mike’s not here. There is a certain way we have
to play the game. In order to win games, that’s what we have to do.”

Sound tactics were just part of this game. The Rams played very hard against
the Jaguars. “The emotion the guys played with, and the passion and the
character, is just unbelievable,” Vitt said.

“When guys are backed into the corner, and we’re as underhanded as we are,
people have to step up. One man’s misfortune is another one’s fortune, if he
takes advantage of it. We had some guys step up, take advantage and do a good
job.”

(Vitt meant “shorthanded” there. Or “undermanned.” Maybe it was just a Freudian
slip, given all the underhanded dealing up and down the administrative food
chain at Rams Park.)

The Rams defense showed plenty of resilience after allowing the Jaguars to bust
a couple of big plays. Perhaps there is something to build on for the final
eight games of the regular season.

“We’ve got to play better if we want to compete in the second half,” Vitt said.
“We had three games in a row with 40-plus scores. You’re not going to beat
anybody. The intensity has been better, the attention to detail has been
better.”

Rookie offensive tackle Alex Barron took a succession of penalties, but, on
balance, the Rams didn’t make a lot of mental mistakes.

“That is something we talked about all week long,” Vitt said. “Most of you in
practice, saw the officials we had out there. Trying to emphasize playing
mistake-free football, not killing ourselves, and that was encouraging.”

Rather than hurt themselves on special teams, the Rams helped themselves.
Imagine that!

“Two weeks in a row special teams won the game for us,” Vitt observed.
“Outstanding.”

All the way around, the Rams players and coaches held themselves accountable
for their season. So they managed to win their second game in a row under
difficult conditions.

“Nobody wants to hear our sad stories,” Vitt said. “When you cross those white
lines on game day, that’s what you will be judged on. You better prepare to
win. You better be prepared to bring your ‘A’ game and be judged by that.”

That is not a complex assessment, but it certainly rings true. And that is
exactly the sort of leadership this team needs in such confusing times for this
franchise.