Rams Reserves Come Up Big
Sunday, October 23, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

It was tough enough entering Sunday’s game against the Saints without the presence of the head coach and without the services of quarterback Marc Bulger. By the time the game started, though, things looked even worse.
When the Rams released their inactives about an hour before the game, receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and defensive end Leonard Little appeared on the list. That’s right, St. Louis was forced to take on New Orleans without its head coach, best defensive player, starting quarterback and superstar receivers, not exactly a recipe to win for a team that was riding a three-game losing streak entering the game.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” strong safety Adam Archuleta said. “We just had to keep going, keep grinding. There were some guys that helped us win a lot of games that didn’t play today but we have to have guys step in in their place.”
The Rams had plenty of guys stepping in to those roles, but the question wasn’t if they would be able to fill those spots, but how well they could fill those spots. Well, they did more than just fill in on the way to a 28-17 win against the Saints on Sunday.
Coach Mike Martz has missed the past two games as he recovers from an acute bacterial infection believed to be endocarditis. Interim head coach Joe Vitt is the man asked to replace him.
Vitt has provided St. Louis with a fiery, relentless type of old school leadership that seems to have rubbed off on the Rams. In return for his dedication and work, the Rams were finally able to provide him with his first career coaching victory.
“He deserves it,” free safety Mike Furrey said. “He’s had us prepared. He had us prepared last week. He stepped in and took an elite role on a team that who knows which way we were going at the time and he’s doing a great job.”
Dealing with the absences of four of his most valuable players didn’t make Vitt’s job any easier. In fact, it made it much more difficult, so difficult that the Rams fell behind 14-0 early in the game and appeared on the verge of a blowout loss.
But that was before the aforementioned “other” players emerged and came up with big play after big play. With no Bruce and no Holt, the Rams started Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis at receiver.
Perhaps no player on the Rams came up with a better performance under duress than the speedy Curtis.
Curtis finished with four catches for 90 yards and scored the game-winning 5-yard touchdown on a reverse in the fourth quarter. While Curtis has grown accustomed to replacing Bruce in the past few weeks, the loss of Holt added even more pressure to his situation.
“I think especially coming in for Isaac, those are big shoes to fill and it’s a matter of trying to do my job and not trying to do too much,” Curtis said. “With Torry out too and Marc down, we have some guys that are kind of the center of this team out with injuries so we have to step in and do our job.”
Bruce has been out since the Tennessee game because of a turf toe injury and his absence was expected, but Holt was a late scratch.
Holt injured his knee against Seattle, but finished that game and went on to play last week against Indianapolis. Holt was held out of practice all week because the knee was not responding too well to treatment, but was expected to play as late as Sunday morning even though he was downgraded to questionable from probable Saturday afternoon.
With no Holt and no Bruce and no Bulger, it seemed that any hope of a down field passing game would soon vanish.
Instead, Curtis came up with big play after big play. Aside from the touchdown run, his biggest play came on a spectacular 42-yard catch down the sideline to set up Steven Jackson’s 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
Although plenty of young players performed admirably in the place of the missing stars, Vitt was probably most impressed with Curtis’ effort.
“Unbelievable,” Vitt said. “But that doesn’t surprise anybody, does it? You see him do it all the time.”
Of course, Curtis wouldn’t have been able to do what he did without the aid of quarterback Jamie Martin, the man saddled with the task of replacing Bulger. Martin had some good moments against the Colts last week, but had a pair of bad turnovers that helped Indianapolis pull away.
Martin didn’t put up huge numbers like Bulger usually does, but the Rams weren’t asking him to light up the scoreboard. Instead, St. Louis wanted Martin to manage the game, do enough to keep the New Orleans defense honest and not turn the ball over.
Mission accomplished. Martin finished 18-of-29 for 198 yards with no interceptions. But it wasn’t even his passing effort that made him stand out. Martin was the man that threw the block to spring Curtis on his touchdown run.
Martin dealt with some nerves early in the game, but settled in as the game went along.
“I was nervous,” Martin said. “I missed that first throw I had. I think that was a bit of nerves and I just jerked it out there. I calmed down as the game went on, hit some long throws and overall I think I was all right as the game went along.”
With Jackson carrying the bulk of the load, that was all the Rams would need from Martin, provided, of course, that the defense could do its job.
The absence of Martz, Bulger, Holt and Bruce was bad enough, but without Little it seemed almost certain that the Rams defense that has struggled mightily in the past three weeks was going to be in for a long day again.
Little attended the funeral services for his brother Jermain, who was killed Monday, on Saturday and didn’t make it back to St. Louis in time for the game. Had Little made it back, it was hard to imagine his being ready to play without being in town all week or being in on the game planning.
“He’s our best defensive player and our heart is with Leonard and I love him like a brother,” defensive end Tyoka Jackson said. “So, the best thing we could do is not embarrass him out here today and that’s what we tried to do. We tried not to embarrass Leonard Little out here today.”
It seemed that the Rams wouldn’t be able to do that early in the game when New Orleans jumped out to a 14-0 lead by punishing the St. Louis defense on the ground and through the air.
But Jackson and Co. picked up the slack by getting plenty of pressure on quarterback Aaron Brooks and coming up with stops at the most important of times.
After the Saints rolled up 145 yards in the first quarter, they were held to 187 in the next three quarters. The Rams also forced a pair of important turnovers, using the likes of defensive end Brandon Green and Ronald Bartell in key roles.
“There’s a lot of ways you could come up with an excuse to shut it down or maybe feel sorry for yourself because these guys aren’t here,” Archuleta said. “I think it is a credit to our character. We took it personally and said, you know, we have to step up. Especially defensively we have to be more physical. Teams can’t run the ball on us and that’s the way to win.”
For a team that seems to spring a new leak every time it patches an old one, the Rams finally found the right amount of plugs, for one day at least.
“Those guys are kind of the heart and soul of this team, to have them out is tough,” Curtis said. “But we have other great players and they showed up and made big plays for us.”