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Rams Regroup for Stretch Run

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  • Rams Regroup for Stretch Run

    Rams Regroup for Stretch Run
    Monday, December 13, 2004
    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    The NFL, like no other league in any sport, is known for its parity. Take that to the next step and the perfect microcosm of that is this season.

    With three weeks to go, the NFC playoff picture is as fuzzy as a big-screen television in rural Idaho. Just about any team can make it and, with a few exceptions, any team that is in position to make it now could drop out soon.

    The Rams are the centerpiece of that picture with opportunities to go either way coming from all angles. Sitting at 6-7 after a 20-7 loss at Carolina on Sunday, there is, stunningly, plenty left to play for.

    The loss featured seven turnovers, including six interceptions by quarterback Chris Chandler. Chandler started in place of the injured Marc Bulger, who is out with a sprained right shoulder. That problem alone makes the road ahead a difficult one for St. Louis to travel.

    Despite the setback, coach Mike Martz remains unwavering in his confidence about what the Rams can do.

    “I don’t know any other way, I don’t think any other way, that’s just my nature,” Martz said. “We just have to find a way to get it done, fix what’s broken and move on; get a short memory about this stuff. That’s what we are focusing on.”

    That has been a prevailing attitude around this team for most of the season. Unfortunately, it seems when something gets fixed, something else seems to break.

    Take Sunday’s game for example. If ever there was a microcosm of what has been typical of the Rams’ season, Sunday was it.

    The Rams defense has been ranked near the bottom of the league for most of the season, but it had perhaps its best performance (non-San Francisco division) against the Panthers. Sure, the unit started out struggling by giving up a pair of early touchdowns. In the first quarter, Carolina marched the ball all over the field and it had 196 yards at the half.

    Once the second quarter began, though, the Rams defense played like it had on only a few other occasions (see second half at Seattle) the rest of the way. The Panthers managed just a pair of field goals and St. Louis stayed within striking distance the rest of the way.

    In years past, a defensive performance such as that would have been a telltale sign of a relatively easy victory for the Rams’ high-octane offense. Instead, it was the foil to one of the most miserable offensive outputs of Martz’s tenure.

    Chandler almost completed more passes to Panthers than Rams. Running back Arlen Harris, in place of Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson, ran hard and played well, but didn’t quite have the burst to make any big plays.

    In fact, St. Louis had just two big plays all day, one a 75-yard touchdown pass from Chandler to receiver Torry Holt and the other a nullified 52-yard score to receiver Isaac Bruce that was called back for holding.

    That strange reversal of roles for the offense and defense could be the most frustrating thing.

    “We’re all disappointed with the way we played that game, particularly on offense,” Martz said. “We did not play very well. We did not protect the quarterback. We just could not get things going offensively. To have that many turnovers and hold them to 20 points is kind of a miraculous job by the defense.”

    It might not quite be a Christmas miracle, but it certainly was another step in the right direction for a seemingly improving defense. Of the Panthers’ seven opportunities off of turnovers, they were able to convert enough to manage 10 points. For a defense that has been much-maligned most of the season, that could be the biggest ray of hope.

    As it stands now, the Rams would not be in the playoffs if they started today. That, however, means little with three games left to play. St. Louis’ best chance probably resides in its hopes for the NFC West Division title.

    Seattle escaped Minnesota with a 27-23 win that put it at 7-6 and gave it a one-game lead on the Rams in the division. The Seahawks play at the New York Jets this week, followed by home games against Arizona and Atlanta.

    The Rams, of course, play at Arizona this weekend, followed by home games against Philadelphia and the Jets. No matter how it breaks down, St. Louis must make up that one game on the Seahawks at some point in order to have a chance at the division.

    For a shot at the wild card, the Rams would need the Panthers or Vikings to drop another game or two and win. None of that matters now, though. St. Louis must worry about itself first and foremost.

    “You can say a lot of things,” safety Adam Archuleta said. “But at the end of the day it falls on the team.”

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  • RamWraith
    Carolina intercepts Rams' playoff bid
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Sunday, Dec. 12 2004

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Just when the Rams needed him most, Chris Chandler came up
    with probably the worst performance in his 17 NFL seasons.

    And no one felt worse than Chandler, who threw six - that's right, a half dozen
    - interceptions in the Rams' 20-7 loss to Carolina.

    "After everything I did good last week to help this team win (against San
    Francisco), I can take all the blame for this loss," Chandler said.

    When Carolina cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. gains more yards off Chandler passes
    than Isaac Bruce, you know it's a long day. But that's exactly what happened
    Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

    Manning, a Rams nemesis last season in the playoffs, picked off two Chandler
    passes and returned them for 46 yards. Bruce had three catches for 27 yards.

    "Chris made some real poor 'judgment throws' where the ball didn't come out
    when it should," coach Mike Martz said. "On some of those things he was
    throwing the ball too quickly instead of letting the guy get into the hole."

    Martz theorized that some of that may have been because Chandler was reverting
    to old habits from past teams. The Rams ask their quarterbacks to approach
    things differently in terms of how they go through their reads.

    "A little bit," Chandler said. "But it's not anything that's too different. I
    had no answers. No excuses, either. It was just not good."

    The Rams entered the game in first place in the NFC West, holding the No. 4
    seed in the playoffs. But at 6-7, the Rams are now on the outside looking in.

    Seattle (7-6) took over the division lead by winning in Minnesota. And Carolina
    (6-7), with its fifth straight victory, now holds the sixth - and final -
    playoff spot. (It has the tiebreaker edge over the Rams because it defeated the
    Rams head to head.)

    But all that was on anybody's minds early Sunday evening were interceptions,
    not playoff scenarios. The six interceptions were a career high for the
    39-year-old Chandler - his previous high was four against San Diego, way back
    in 1990.

    Chandler's interception total tied for the second most in Rams franchise
    history, trailing the seven thrown by Bob Waterfield against Green Bay in 1958
    and Parker Hall against Green Bay in 1942.

    The tone was set on the Rams' opening possession. Facing a third and 3 on the
    Carolina 27, Chandler was flushed out of the pocket, had Dane Looker open over
    the middle for a first down, but overthrew him with Manning coming down with
    the interception.

    Two additional interceptions came on deflected...
    -12-13-2004, 05:35 AM
  • RamWraith
    Sun Sets On Rams In Arizona
    by RamWraith
    Sunday, December 19, 2004

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    TEMPE, Ariz. – Just when it appeared things couldn’t get much worse for the Rams after the debacle in Carolina last week, they might have topped it Sunday.

    At the end of the first quarter, the score was 10-0 Arizona. It might as well have been 7-0, as in first downs gained for the Cardinals and first downs (or lack thereof) by the Rams. Another option would have been 108 to negative 20, as in the total yardage for Arizona versus total yardage for St. Louis.

    A stunningly bad first quarter set the stage for a shockingly awful performance that led to Arizona’s 31-7 win at Sun Devil Stadium on Sunday. The loss was the Rams’ first to the Cardinals since they became divisional opponents two years ago.

    More important than any of that, though, St. Louis missed a prime opportunity to take back control of the NFC West Division and its playoff hopes. Before Sunday’s game even began, the Jets drubbed Seattle and Carolina had lost to Atlanta. A win for the Rams would have moved them to 7-7 and into a tie with the Seahawks for first place in the division.

    Instead, St. Louis fell to 6-8 and has two difficult home games coming up to save its playoff hopes. Arizona improved to 5-9 on the season.

    Perhaps the worst part about losing to a team that had lost its four previous games was the fact that it seemed that Arizona, not St. Louis was the team playing for a playoff spot. The Rams came out as flat as can be and were punished for it early and often.

    Without quarterback Marc Bulger because of a sprained right shoulder, Chris Chandler made his second straight start. Chandler was coming off a six-interception debacle on Dec. 12 against Carolina. In that game, at least, Chandler had a number other than zero in his quarterback rating statistic afterward. Because of that performance, Chandler entered Sunday’s game on a short leash.

    That leash was pulled in after another rough performance. Chandler barely made it out of the first quarter after going one-of-six for 1 yard, an interception and two sacks. Jamie Martin replaced Chandler on the Rams’ first possession of the second quarter.

    But St. Louis’ hopes for a win appeared dashed in that first quarter. Compounding Chandler’s continued struggles were a lack of running game (two carries for negative 1 yard) and a poor defensive performance (108 yards allowed).

    After the Rams’ second straight three-and-out, Arizona promptly marched 73 yards on 10 plays, capped by quarterback Josh McCown’s 1-yard touchdown sneak. Kicker Neil Rackers’ extra point made it 7-0. Rackers added a 48-yard field goal on the Cardinals’ next possession to make it 10-0, after Chandler was picked off by cornerback David Macklin.

    Martin, who was out of football entirely a little over two weeks ago, had slightly more...
    -12-20-2004, 03:49 AM
  • RamWraith
    Chandler throws on a running play
    by RamWraith wire reports

    TEMPE, Ariz. (Dec. 19, 2004) -- The NFC West is so bad that a team with a losing record could win it -- even the Arizona Cardinals.

    The St. Louis Rams had a chance to take control of the league's worst division, but they fell flat in a 31-7 loss to the Cardinals.

    Josh McCown threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more and the Cardinals snapped a four-game losing streak.

    McCown, starting his second game since being benched for three, went 22-of-34 for 287 yards with no interceptions. He had TD passes of 8 and 4 yards to Larry Fitzgerald, and scoring runs of 1 and 9 yards.

    A victory would have moved the Rams into a tie with Seattle atop the division, since St. Louis holds the tiebreaker with two wins over the Seahawks. Instead, the Rams fell to 6-8, just one game ahead of the Cardinals (5-9), who improbably are still alive.

    "We didn't see this coming," Rams wide receiver Torry Holt said. "If there was any game on the schedule that we felt confident about coming in and winning, it would be Arizona."

    If Arizona wins its last two, and both Seattle and St. Louis go 0-2, the Cardinals would take the division title at 7-9.

    "I'm surprised that a 5-9 team is in it, but I'm not surprised that it's this team," McCown said. "We have it in us. We have the talent, we have the capability to do this, it's just a consistency thing."

    With quarterback Marc Bulger out with a shoulder injury, 39-year-old Chris Chandler lasted just one quarter for the Rams before he was replaced by Jamie Martin, who saw his first regular-season action in two years. He was signed by the Rams earlier this month when Bulger was injured.

    St. Louis coach Mike Martz put much of the blame on Chandler, saying the veteran quarterback threw the ball on a run play on the first series and made other elementary mistakes.

    "It's tragic for this football team, for that position to hold this whole football team hostage," Martz said, "but that's where we are."

    Martz praised Martin's play, considering the circumstances, but said, "I just don't know what to call when you've got a guy in there that's never been in there."

    The Rams' touchdown came on Leonard Little 's 61-yard fumble return with 7 seconds left in the first half.

    "When you score 31 points, hold a team to seven points and basically no points against the offense -- and not in position to kick even field goals -- then you feel like you've done a very good job," Arizona coach Dennis Green said.

    St. Louis' only serious offensive threat ended when Holt was hit by Ifeanyi Ohalete and fumbled as he was about to cross the goal line. Ohalete recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

    -12-20-2004, 03:48 AM
  • Guest's Avatar
    Amid adversity, can Rams coach reinvent himself?
    by Guest
    Amid adversity, can Rams coach reinvent himself? By Bryan Burwell Of the Post-Dispatch 12/18/2004

    Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell

    PHOENIX - The Rams have played this season as if it was an extended game of Russian roulette, forever keeping us anxious and aggravated as they flirt with so many potential season-ending disasters.

    Yet now, with only three games to play, they want us to believe the self-destructive nonsense is over and a no-nonsense approach is firmly in place. They keep talking to a world full of doubters, telling us that out here in the Arizona desert they will begin a legitimate postseason run.

    "Are you kidding?" Mike Martz said earlier this week, grinning like a Cheshire cat. The head coach appeared to be almost insulted, wondering why no one could see how this struggling 6-7 football team controls its own playoff destiny. He seemed shocked that no one could figure out that success was just around the corner, even with two NFL powerhouses like the Philadelphia Eagles (12-1) and the New York Jets (9-4) standing in the Rams' path after Sunday's little dance with the sorry Arizona Cardinals (4-9).

    Martz was a glass-is-half-full man in a room full of glass-is-half-empty doubters. While we keep calculating how bad a mess the Rams are in, our favorite gray-haired football eccentric keeps finding hope peeking into the room like warm slashes of sunlight.

    "We can," Martz told a room full of reporters. "That's why I'm so excited. I stand here every week and tell you that. Things come up that you have to deal with, unfortunately. If it were that easy, which it's not, obviously, trying to get guys to that certain point, sometimes it takes longer than you think it would. But we're going to get there.

    "I'm encouraged by what I've seen, and I told the team after the game that they have nothing to be ashamed of. They played their butts off, and we just made some mistakes that we couldn't overcome. If we eliminate those mistakes, this is going to be a real good football team."

    But time is running out on Martz's hopes and dreams. A loss Sunday to the Cardinals effectively crushes the Rams' postseason possibilities. Sure, there are slim, mathematical opportunities - particularly with the tentative way the faint-of-heart Seattle Seahawks hold on to the NFC West lead - but the Rams really can't count on the NFC being so sorry that an 8-8 record will be good enough to get that final wild-card berth.

    So let's take Martz on his word and believe that this is the start of the playoff push. How will the Rams do it, particularly with 39-year-old Chris Chandler starting at quarterback again after last week's six-interception meltdown? It's never a good thing to see the Rams go into a game without Marc Bulger, particularly when his backup is a 17-year veteran who looks as...
    -12-19-2004, 05:06 AM
  • RamWraith
    Despite injury concerns, Rams back in driver's seat in NFC West
    by RamWraith
    By Chris Ruddick, NFL Analyst

    (Sports Network) - Thanks to a monumental collapse by the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football, the St. Louis Rams are back atop the standings of the NFC West. The Rams, at 6-6, are actually tied with the Seahawks, but they hold the tiebreaker over them by virtue of their two regular season wins against them.

    However, St. Louis did get some bad news on Monday when it was learned that starting quarterback Marc Bulger, who left this past Sunday's win over San Francisco with a sprained right shoulder, will miss this week's contest against the Carolina Panthers.

    Bulger has a bone bruise on his throwing shoulder at the top of his collarbone. The good news, though, is that it is not a shoulder separation.

    "The AC (joint) separations that are so typical for quarterbacks was not there," Martz said. "There is a little bit of swelling in the joint, but there's no damage evidently to the ligaments that hold the joint together."

    So it will be 16-year veteran Chris Chandler, who will be making his 151st career start, under center this week for the Rams.

    "I am excited about the potential of what he (Chandler) can do for us this week," Rams head coach Mike Martz said. "He'll be our starter at quarterback this week."

    Chandler, who played for the Rams while they were located in Los Angeles, filled in admirably for Bulger on Sunday and completed 18-of-27 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown in his team's 16-6 win.

    "You only get one chance to play this game," said Chandler, who has also spent time with Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta and Chicago. "When it's over, it's over. I'm getting close to that time so every time I'm out there I try to really have fun and keep the guys having fun."

    Also running back Steven Jackson could miss the game this week with a bruised right knee.

    "I don't know if he'll be available this week or not," Martz said. "I suppose he will be, but who knows?"

    Jackson was injured on the last of his 26 carries on Sunday. He was replaced for the final two offensive plays by Arlen Harris, who would get the start this Sunday if Jackson or Marshall Faulk are both unavailable.

    Faulk is expected to sit out practice for most of the week and Martz said his status for this week's tilt will be updated later in the week.

    "It's all based on Marshall, on his health and how he feels and how he's going," said Martz. "When he's healthy, he's feeling good, there's no reason to diminish what he does."

    The Rams got back to .500 on Sunday, as Jackson rushed for 119 yards and Jeff Wilkins booted three field goals to lead the way.

    "I knew early on that I was getting the start and...
    -12-08-2004, 05:12 AM