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  • Rams' season closes with a rush

    Rams' season closes with a rush
    By Bryan Burwell
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    Sunday, Jan. 16 2005

    ATLANTA - At the end of this draining night in Georgia, inside the visitor's
    locker room in the lower reaches of the Georgia Dome, the Rams' traveling
    football show was ready to close down. Down the hall in the upbeat Atlanta
    Falcons locker room, little kids with footballs and Michael Vick jerseys darted
    back and forth getting autographs from their hometown heroes. Players checked
    their cell phone voice mails, and perused the gaudy stat sheet that gave all
    the gory details of their 47-17 rout of the Rams in Saturday night's NFC
    conference semifinal playoff.

    The Falcons' dazzling show is still playing to rave reviews this morning. The
    NFC South champs are on their way to the NFC Championship Game, and they are
    brimming with a verve and confidence that only dominant victories like this can
    bring. Yet here inside the Rams' subdued visiting quarters, the show was
    closing down for the season. Equipment men packed all the pads and helmets,
    jerseys, tape and footballs into large trunks and shoved them onto waiting
    moving vans. The glum-faced front-office brass milled quietly around the room,
    shaking hands with players and offering soothing words of comfort. The players
    quietly stuffed their belongings into expensive leather carry-alls, then tried
    to make sense of this abrupt and decisive destruction at the hands of the
    Falcons.

    "I just knew we were going to do better than that," Leonard Little said as he
    leaned against his locker stall. "I swear, we practiced against every single
    play they ran. We knew every scheme they threw at us. I just don't get how it
    turned out so bad."

    From start to finish, there was scant evidence that the Rams had a clue that
    they knew what they were doing against the Falcons. If you believe in
    premonitions, maybe the Rams should have known what was in store for them from
    the beginning of the stunning pre-game pyrotechnics that were so hot they could
    singe eyebrows from 50 yards away.

    The Falcons came jogging out of the Dome end zone tunnel for pre-game
    introductions to the dazzling fanfare of exploding fireworks, giant
    flame-throwing torches and throbbing hip-hop music that was so loud and so cool
    that it turned this rowdy place into a giant domed dance club.

    Oh, if only that was the extent of the explosions. But unfortunately for the
    Rams, the biggest bangs and most devastating detonations on this night were not
    reserved solely for the pre-game festivities. From start to finish, the Falcons
    detonated creative pyrotechnics in all of the very familiar weak spots of the
    Rams.

    We all knew this improbable late-season renaissance had to end sooner or later.
    But did it have to end like this, so abruptly, so emphatically? The Falcons
    gashed the Rams' run defense at an eye-popping pace. Quarterback Michael Vick
    (119 yards), tailback Warrick Dunn (142 yards) and fullback T.J. Duckett (66
    yards) gouged the so-called new and improved St. Louis defense for a
    jaw-dropping 327 yards on the ground.

    Atlanta return man Allen Rossum blew through the Rams special teams with such
    stunning regularity it was hard to figure why he only had one touchdown. This
    was a horrid rerun of some of the worst displays of the Rams' up-and-down
    season. "I just didn't expect that," said Mike Martz, who still looked stunned
    a half-hour after the game. "I don't know why they played like that. . . . We
    just gotta fix what's wrong."

    After three weeks of dramatic improvement on all fronts, the Rams had a relapse
    so dramatic Saturday night against the Falcons that this franchise will surely
    go into the offseason stung by the humiliation of such a complete loss. Yet the
    farther we move away from the agony of defeat, this butt-whipping by the
    Falcons might just serve the Rams rather well. While what we saw over the past
    few weeks was quite useful for the future of this franchise, the defeat - so
    sound, so complete, so staggering - showed just how far the team still has to
    go before it can once again be a legitimate championship contender.

    "As a team, we have come a long ways," said Martz, a faint smile creasing his
    lips. "(But) we have a long way to go."

    They discovered several new and exciting offensive weapons for the future in
    wide receiver Kevin Curtis (his second consecutive 100-yard receiving game)
    speeding through the secondary, and No. 1 draft pick Steven Jackson pounding
    through the line of scrimmage with his thunderous power.

    They discovered that some of those young defensive linemen, like Anthony
    Hargrove and Jimmy Kennedy, are on the verge of becoming impressive and useful
    members of that sagging defensive front. We learned that quarterback Marc
    Bulger has the grit and arm strength to lead this team for a long time. We even
    learned that Marshall Faulk still has some juice left in his 31-year-old legs.
    We learned there is something to build on with this team that struggled through
    the regular season with an 8-8 record. And we know that any time you can give a
    young team the invaluable exposure of the high drama of the NFL playoffs, it
    will serve the team well down the line.

    But the trouble with putting a team like the young Rams on such a large and
    intense national stage like the conference semifinals is that ultimately they
    have to run into a legitimate championship contender like these very impressive
    Falcons, who have few weaknesses and expose all of their opponents'. The
    Falcons definitively showed that this team needs run-stuffing linebackers to
    help out Pisa Tinoisamoa, and play-making safeties in the worst way. They need
    to concentrate in the draft on finding big, nasty offensive linemen to keep
    their MVP quarterback protected.

    The simple truth is, a loss like this can serve this franchise very well. It's
    now in the hands of the Rams scouts and personnel evaluators. Their season has
    just begun and what they do over the next few months will be even more
    important than their giddy three-game January resurgence.

    __________________________________________________________
    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

  • #2
    Re: Rams' season closes with a rush

    As soon as Vick took off for that 47 yard scramble on their first drive, I knew that I/WE were in for a long, long, depressing night of Rams football. Maybe, just maybe, this is the hard way to learn this lesson and I hope the front office has, that you need solid line play on both sides of the ball, not just playmakers to win in this league. Let's hope they do something to shore up both these squads.

    Maineram -

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    • RamWraith
      Rams' season closes with a rush
      by RamWraith
      By Bryan Burwell
      Of the Post-Dispatch
      Sunday, Jan. 16 2005

      ATLANTA - At the end of this draining night in Georgia, inside the visitor's
      locker room in the lower reaches of the Georgia Dome, the Rams' traveling
      football show was ready to close down. Down the hall in the upbeat Atlanta
      Falcons locker room, little kids with footballs and Michael Vick jerseys darted
      back and forth getting autographs from their hometown heroes. Players checked
      their cell phone voice mails, and perused the gaudy stat sheet that gave all
      the gory details of their 47-17 rout of the Rams in Saturday night's NFC
      conference semifinal playoff.

      The Falcons' dazzling show is still playing to rave reviews this morning. The
      NFC South champs are on their way to the NFC Championship Game, and they are
      brimming with a verve and confidence that only dominant victories like this can
      bring. Yet here inside the Rams' subdued visiting quarters, the show was
      closing down for the season. Equipment men packed all the pads and helmets,
      jerseys, tape and footballs into large trunks and shoved them onto waiting
      moving vans. The glum-faced front-office brass milled quietly around the room,
      shaking hands with players and offering soothing words of comfort. The players
      quietly stuffed their belongings into expensive leather carry-alls, then tried
      to make sense of this abrupt and decisive destruction at the hands of the
      Falcons.

      "I just knew we were going to do better than that," Leonard Little said as he
      leaned against his locker stall. "I swear, we practiced against every single
      play they ran. We knew every scheme they threw at us. I just don't get how it
      turned out so bad."

      From start to finish, there was scant evidence that the Rams had a clue that
      they knew what they were doing against the Falcons. If you believe in
      premonitions, maybe the Rams should have known what was in store for them from
      the beginning of the stunning pre-game pyrotechnics that were so hot they could
      singe eyebrows from 50 yards away.

      The Falcons came jogging out of the Dome end zone tunnel for pre-game
      introductions to the dazzling fanfare of exploding fireworks, giant
      flame-throwing torches and throbbing hip-hop music that was so loud and so cool
      that it turned this rowdy place into a giant domed dance club.

      Oh, if only that was the extent of the explosions. But unfortunately for the
      Rams, the biggest bangs and most devastating detonations on this night were not
      reserved solely for the pre-game festivities. From start to finish, the Falcons
      detonated creative pyrotechnics in all of the very familiar weak spots of the
      Rams.

      We all...
      -01-17-2005, 04:54 AM
    • RamWraith
      Disrespected Rams big underdogs vs. rock-solid Falcons
      by RamWraith
      BY JEFF GORDON
      Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist


      Talk about your classic playoff scenarios . . .

      On one hand, you have the resurgent Rams. After a season-long struggle with injuries, lineup shuffling and generally poor execution, the Rams won their last two regular-season games and beat Seattle in the wild-card playoff round.

      On the other hand, you have the rock-solid Atlanta Falcons. They parlayed a strong rushing game and an aggressive defense to score old-school success during the regular season.

      The Rams are the massive underdogs, since they were 6-8 just three weeks ago and headed toward a major overhaul.

      The Falcons have been one of the NFL’s feel-good stories, with exciting Michael Vick breaking out at quarterback and Jim Mora emerging as the league’s brightest young coach.

      The Rams must venture back onto the road, albeit to play in an environment much like their own at the Edward Jones Dome. But the Falcons will have a potentially disruptive crowd working for them as Rams coach Mike Martz tries to orchestrate his offense.

      The Falcons feature a physical defense that forced 32 turnovers this season. The Rams are the most mistake-prone team to EVER reach postseason play; their minus-24 turnover ratio is the worst any playoff-bound team has recorded.

      The Rams still have issues along their offensive line, where left guard Tom Nutten has been attempting to hold the fort on one leg. The Falcons will attack with a talented front four, led by Rod Coleman, Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith.

      The Falcons feature a three-pronged ground game, with the speedy Vick, the elusive Warrick Dunn and bruising T.J. Duckett. The Rams have only recently improved their rushing defense; earlier this season the Falcons ran the ball 38 times for 242 yards while rolling toward a 34-17 victory in the Georgia Dome.

      The Rams can play pitch and catch all day, especially indoors on artificial turf. Earlier this season at Atlanta, quarterback Marc Bulger completed 24 of 31 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown.

      They have revived their four wide-out attack, thanks to the development of young receivers Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald, and Bulger can also throw to both running backs and both tight ends.

      On the other hand, the Rams rushed for just 30 yards on 15 carries during that loss to the Falcons and now running backs Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson are trying to play hurt.

      Both teams are just glad to be in this game. The Falcons raised expectations by rolling to a division title, but they are still an upstart. The Rams slid into the playoffs through the back door, so they, too, see this as a gravy game.

      The Falcons played their back-ups for much of their last two games, to protect their battered stars from further injury. Then they enjoyed a bye...
      -01-11-2005, 01:10 PM
    • RamWraith
      Atlanta next stop for Rams
      by RamWraith
      By Jim Thomas
      Of the Post-Dispatch
      Sunday, Jan. 09 2005

      Before the game on Sept. 19, Atlanta coach Jim Mora had some words of
      inspiration for his Falcons.

      "Just close the gate, lock 'em in here, and don't let 'em out until you kick
      their (butts)," he said.

      And that's pretty much what happened. Outscoring the Rams 17- 0 in the fourth
      quarter, the Falcons snapped a seven-game losing streak against St. Louis with
      a 34-17 victory at the Georgia Dome.

      Led by quarterback Michael Vick's dazzling 109 yards rushing, Atlanta gained
      242 yards on the ground. It's the second-highest rushing total yielded by the
      Rams in their 10 seasons in St. Louis.

      The Rams got fooled by an onside kick in falling behind 14-0 midway through the
      first half.

      Quarterback Marc Bulger was sacked five times, one of which resulted in a
      critical fourth-quarter TD after Brady Smith got around Orlando Pace with an
      outside rush and stripped Bulger from behind in the end zone.

      Atlanta's active front seven limited the Rams to just 30 yards rushing on 15
      carries.

      And in what would become a season-long problem area, the St. Louis defense came
      up with no takeaways for the second consecutive game.

      "We didn't do much of anything, really, in any phase of the game," Mike Martz
      said after the game.

      But that was fourth months ago. It was still summer. Steven Jackson was
      returning kickoffs. Brandon Chillar was starting ahead of Tommy Polley at
      linebacker. Cornerback Travis Fisher was out with a broken arm.

      The Rams were searching for their identity offensively and defensively, a
      process that would take much of the season.

      And now they meet again. As a result of Minnesota's first-round playoff victory
      Sunday over Green Bay, the Rams get Atlanta in the NFC semifinals Saturday at
      the Georgia Dome. The winner advances to the NFC championship game.

      While the NFC South champion Falcons were resting with a first-round bye, the
      Rams defeated Seattle 27-20 Saturday in a first-round playoff game at Qwest
      Field. It was the third victory in a row for the Rams.

      Afterward, Martz offered no apologies for making the playoffs despite an 8-8
      record.

      "We did make it in because we won enough games to get in," Martz said. "So it's
      well-deserved. And at this point, only the strong survive. The strong keep
      going and the others fall off."

      It will take an inspired effort against the Falcons for the Rams to keep going
      this postseason. By the numbers, the Falcons aren't overwhelming. They finished
      the regular season ranked 20th in...
      -01-10-2005, 05:33 AM
    • RamWraith
      Confident Rams will take new mind-set to Atlanta
      by RamWraith
      By Bryan Burwell
      Of the Post-Dispatch
      Thursday, Jan. 13 2005

      By now, most of the Rams players have whirled and clicked their way through the
      footage of that 34-17 debacle in the Georgia Dome last September so often that
      their eyes are red and bleary. Revisiting that Game 2 loss to the Atlanta
      Falcons was a horror film of monumental proportions. They saw all that poor
      tackling. They saw all that poor blocking. They saw all those drive-killing,
      self-destructive mental errors.

      Maybe a few weeks ago, this was just the sort of disaster film that you wanted
      to keep away from this staggering, unsure bunch.

      But now that the Rams have taken a good, hard look at that game tape in
      preparation for Saturday night's prime-time rematch with the Falcons in the NFC
      semifinals, it's a film study that has opened their eyes in ways you could
      never imagine.

      Now that mess in the Georgia Dome looks a lot more like a "before" photo for
      these decidedly improved and confident Rams. That team was a mistake-prone
      bunch that had no idea who they were or where they were going. That team was
      full of mystery and doubt.
      "Man, it doesn't look anything like us now," Leonard Little said earlier this
      week. The Rams' star defensive end shook his head slowly and laughed softly
      when recalling how bad things looked back then.

      "A lot has changed since that game," Little said with a positive smile.

      Four months later - and riding on the emotional high of a three-game winning
      streak at just the right time - this is a team full of self-assurance.

      Yes, these Rams have a different strut about themselves now, and with good
      reason. They will walk into the Georgia Dome with absolutely no pressure on
      them. They are the underdogs. They are the road team. They are the team we all
      left for dead three weeks ago. They are the team that history said couldn't
      possibly be here.

      This is not the way we're used to seeing them storm into the postseason. The
      Rams were always one of the most highly decorated teams in the postseason, full
      of high-profile Pro Bowlers and a gaudy won-loss record that caught everyone's
      attention.

      But things are just a bit different now. This is the team everyone forgot - or
      at least wanted to forget. So now they are here in the conference semifinals
      against the NFC's No. 2 seed. They are here against the game's most exciting
      player, "The Michael Vick Experience." They are here inside another rowdy,
      hostile stadium full of screaming folks who want to make the Rams' lives
      miserable.

      Yet the more you listen to and observe the Rams, you can't get over the...
      -01-14-2005, 04:32 AM
    • RamWraith
      Rams outdo themselves against Falcons
      by RamWraith
      By Jim Thomas
      Of the Post-Dispatch
      Sunday, Jan. 16 2005

      One of the story lines leading into Saturday's NFC semifinal game in Atlanta
      was that this was a different Rams team, the inference being that things would
      be different in the rematch of the meeting Sept. 19 in the Georgia Dome.

      Well, things were different all right ... different as in worse. Not different
      as in better:

      In September, the Rams yielded 242 yards rushing to the Falcons, the
      second-worst total since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995.

      On Saturday, the Falcons rushed for 327 yards against the Rams. In the 74-year
      history of Rams football, that's the fifth-worst performance in either a
      regular-season or postseason game.

      Think about that for a moment. Nearly three-quarters of a century of Rams
      football, encompassing nearly 1,000 regular-season and postseason contests -
      970, to be exact. And on only four previous occasions was a Rams football team
      more porous against the run.

      "We just couldn't stop it," defensive end Leonard Little said. "With (Michael)
      Vick, it really gets you back on your heels because you just don't know if he's
      going to run or throw. They really had their thing going."

      In September against Atlanta, special teams were a problem for the Rams. The
      unit committed two costly penalties and got fooled on an onside kick.

      On Saturday, special teams were a disaster. Allen Rossum's 152 yards on three
      punt returns set an NFL postseason record.

      "There is no excuse for anything that we allowed him to do," Rams special
      teamer Mike Furrey said. "He succeeded, and we didn't."

      That's for sure. And after Atlanta's 47-17 drubbing of the Rams, Falcons coach
      Jim Mora made sure everyone was aware of that fact.

      "We just don't pay lip service to special teams," Mora said. "I think with the
      attention we pay to it, and they don't, that was a big difference. We live it,
      and they don't."

      Despite more embarrassing moments by left tackle Orlando Pace against Falcons
      defensive end Brady Smith - among them a fourth-quarter sack for a safety - the
      offensive line actually performed better this time around. So did the offense,
      even without wide receiver Isaac Bruce, a pregame scratch with a stomach-groin
      muscle injury.

      But that wasn't nearly enough to overcome the largesse on special teams and
      rush defense. In hindsight, the play of the Rams' defensive line wasn't all
      that bad Saturday.

      Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy didn't play as much as normal because of
      soreness in the foot that was fractured in training...
      -01-17-2005, 04:53 AM
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