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  • Rams hope to lift game into spotlight

    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Sunday, Nov. 28 2004

    Gone are the days when the Rams were a prime-time draw, a television ratings
    magnet whether the foe was Denver, New Orleans or Tampa Bay.

    A lot of the sizzle and some of the success are gone from the team once known
    as the Greatest Show on Turf. Oh, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt are still catching
    tons of passes. But Kurt Warner is sitting on a bench in the Meadowlands.
    Although still very good, Marshall Faulk isn't the elite back he was a few
    years ago.

    Many of the support players have scattered to all corners of the NFL via free
    agency. As a result, the team that once averaged 30 points a game has topped 28
    points only once this season, and needed overtime to do so in a 33-27 victory
    at Seattle on Oct. 10.

    But if the Rams aren't quite the success - artistic or otherwise - they once
    were, it doesn't seem to matter during prime time. They continue to do some of
    their best work at night.

    Entering Monday's 8 p.m. contest in Green Bay, the Rams have won their last
    eight prime-time contests - a league high.

    "Oh really?" said defensive end Leonard Little. "We must be doing something
    right on Sunday night and Monday night. Hopefully, it'll carry over in Green
    Bay."

    The streak dates back to the 2002 season. The Rams have won both of their
    prime-time contests this season - an Oct. 3 Sunday nighter in San Francisco
    (24-14), and an Oct. 18 Monday nighter against Tampa Bay (28-21).

    Last season, they swept all three prime-time contests, defeating Cleveland and
    Atlanta on Monday night, and Baltimore on Sunday night. Even in 2002, when the
    Rams stumbled to a 7-9 record, they won their last three prime- time games of
    the season: against Chicago and San Francisco on Monday night, and against
    Arizona on Sunday night. One must go back to Game 3 of '02 for the Rams' last
    prime-time defeat - a 26-14 setback at Tampa Bay.

    Even New England, in the midst of its NFL dominance, can't quite match the Rams
    in terms of prime-time success. The Patriots have won six in a row on prime
    time, including a Monday nighter last week in Kansas City and a Sunday night
    triumph Nov. 14 against Buffalo.

    Rams coach Mike Martz isn't sure how to explain the team's prime-time success.
    And with all the problems swirling around his 5-5 team lately, it's not like
    he's giving it much thought.

    But he says the Rams have kept the same basic approach for night games in
    recent seasons, with some minor tweaks along the way. For example, sometimes
    the Rams won't practice until Thursday on a week when they have a Monday night
    game. In effect, they push back their normal practice routine one day. But they
    practiced on Wednesday and Thursday this time - on Thanksgiving, no less.

    "We just need the work," Martz said.

    Many players say they get pumped up for Monday night. It's the only game on TV,
    etc. But Martz dislikes that concept, and discourages that approach. If players
    manage to muster a little extra effort for Monday night, does that mean they're
    giving a little less in those noon Sunday contests?

    "That's always bothered me as a coach," Martz said. "Just like when people ask
    you, 'Is this a big game?' No. They're all big. If you start looking at the
    schedule trying to figure out how hard you've got to play, you don't belong in
    this league. It just doesn't work that way - not if you're going to win."

    He has tried to drive home that point to his players every year. They appear to
    have gotten the message.

    "We pretty much have the same attitude, the same mentality, going into each
    game," linebacker Robert Thomas said. "Whether it's Monday night, or if the
    game's not even televised."

    Actually, every NFL game is televised somewhere each week. But you get the
    point.

    "I could care less if it's prime time, or local, or on one channel," Little
    said. "It doesn't matter to me, as long as I'm out there playing football. Some
    guys get up for prime- time games. But it shouldn't be like that."

    The hardest part about the prime-time experience, particularly Monday night
    games on the road, is the wait. This week, for example, the Rams leave St.
    Louis late Sunday afternoon, arriving in Green Bay early Sunday evening. That
    gives them more than 24 hours of down time before kickoff at Lambeau Field.

    "You have to sit all day and just wait," Thomas said.

    "It drives me nuts," Martz said.

    On the positive side, Little notes, "You get to sleep in a little bit."

    Rams players have a 9 a.m. wake-up call Monday in Green Bay. (Actually, the
    team is staying in nearby Appleton, Wis.) Following breakfast, there's a brief
    team meeting at 10:30 a.m., followed by offensive and defensive unit meetings
    at 10:45 a.m.

    From a player's standpoint, Martz said, "You have to occupy some time during
    the day. Otherwise, you'd get stale."

    A Mass or chapel service is offered at 3:30 p.m., then there's a mandatory
    pregame meal. Players, coaches, and support staff then have the option of
    taking team busses to the stadium at 4:15 p.m., 4:45 p.m., or 5:15 p.m. But all
    players must be in the locker room by 6 p.m. - or two hours before kickoff.

    Of course, once the ball's kicked off at Lambeau Field, the prime-time winning
    streak won't help them complete a pass, negotiate a first down, or get into the
    end zone. Three weeks ago, their 4-0 record coming out of bye weeks under Martz
    didn't mean much against New England.
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