Vitt's star turn ends in disappointment
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
INDIANAPOLIS — The Rams' Joe Vitt barely had taken a spot on the sideline and strapped on his headset when a television camera was positioned just a couple of feet in front of his face.
Welcome to head coaching on "Monday Night Football."
Vitt, a 27-year NFL assistant, was in charge for the first time when the Rams took on the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome. Vitt was appointed interim head coach Oct. 10, when Mike Martz announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence for treatment of a bacterial infection of a heart valve. He told the Post-Dispatch that he expected to be away from his post for a minimum of six weeks.
The "Vitt era" began well enough as the Rams bolted to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. But after quarterback Marc Bulger went down with a shoulder injury early in the second, the offense stalled and the defense sagged. The Colts cruised to a 45-28 triumph and are now 6-0.
"We're going to move on from there," Vitt said after the Rams' third loss in a row dropped them to 2-4. "We're going to come back to work this week and do everything we can to get this thing righted."
Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild called the plays Monday night, a task Martz normally handles. Fairchild made the calls from the press box, his usual spot on game days.
Vitt, who acknowledged that his understanding of the offense was very limited, said he might listen in on the calls but promised to let Fairchild run the show unfettered. And the show wouldn't look much different, Vitt said.
"We're going to run the offense: multiple sets, multiple formations," he said. "We're going to run our routes, and we're going to throw our passes."
And run them they did, with surprising success in the early going. The Rams marched 80 yards on six plays on the game's first possession and went up 7-0 less than three minutes after kickoff. They increased their edge to 17-0 later in the first quarter before the Colts got things turned around.
Vitt, 51, said he thought the operation ran smoothly throughout the contest. "I didn't feel like there were any problems, I really didn't. Of course, we'll meet tomorrow as a staff and evaluate the whole process," he said. "I thought it was pretty smooth. I thought our players really felt comfortable with the way things were going."
He seemed especially proud that the Rams challenged successfully after the officials ruled that running back Steven Jackson had lost a fumble. "We got the thing challenged pretty well and won it," Vitt said. "These were things that we rehearsed and talked about."
Veteran running back Marshall Faulk said not having Martz on the sideline was "an adjustment that we're going to have to make, and I think tonight for the most part it was made. ... Until Marc went down, everything was fine."
Vitt said that, personally, he felt comfortable in his new role.
"It felt natural to make the challenge; it felt natural to talk to Steve about what he was going to do the next series of plays," he said. "I probably wasn't as involved defensively as I was in the past. ... But I thought it went about as good as we could expect for the first game, except for the score."