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Rams looking to erase mistakes

Coach Mike Martz says making a few plays could be difference in St. Louis' record.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002


ST. LOUIS -- Rams coach Mike Martz was talking about his team's mistakes. Two interceptions and three fumbles in Week 1. Two fumbles and one interception in Week 2.

He was talking about the miscues that can cause a team, even a Super Bowl caliber one such as the Rams, to fall into an 0-2 hole, which is where St. Louis finds itself.

Thing is, Martz wasn't talking about this season but last, when the Rams overcame those mistakes in their opening two games to beat the Eagles 20-17 in overtime and the 49ers 30-26 en route to the Super Bowl. His point? His team could just as easily be 2-0 as 0-2.

"We're missing a play here or a play there. We've had a couple of opportunities over the last few weeks to make a couple of plays on either side of the ball and we just didn't get it done," Martz said. "Last year at this time we could have been sitting here very easily at 0-2 as well, but we made a play or two."

The same could be said about the opening two games of the 2000 season. The Rams struggled, mostly because of their miscues, yet managed to pull out wins over Denver (41-36) and Seattle (37-34) down the stretch.

"In these situations, when you're in ballgames like that where you're within a touchdown of winning or losing, it usually comes down to those types of things," Martz said.

This season, though, the Rams haven't been able to rescue themselves. In Sunday's 26-21 loss to the Giants, the Rams had four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) and fell behind 17-0 in the first half. One turnover came on the exchange from center, ruining a Rams scoring opportunity.

Another costly mistake occurred when left tackle Orlando Pace drew a false-start penalty, negating a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kurt Warner to running back Marshall Faulk. Another came with the Rams driving for a potential game-winning touchdown late. Warner, thinking receiver Torry Holt was going to cut inside, threw an interception when Holt went outside, effectively ending the Rams' last shot at winning with 1:50 left.

The Rams haven't been lucky, either. Against the Giants, quarterback Kerry Collins admittedly fumbled ("Yeah, I did," he said after the game.) on third and goal from the Rams 5, giving the ball to the Rams. But officials ruled he was down by contact, a play that can't be reviewed. The Giants kicked a field goal to extend their lead 20-14.

The Rams' opener was much the same: drive-killing mistakes, untimely penalties, two fumbles (one lost) and one interception led to a 23-16 loss to Denver.

"I think they are things we can fix. Like the fumbles and interceptions and the costly penalties and things like that. Those are things we can fix on a week-to-week basis," Pace said. "What we need to do is get back to the fundamentals and doing the things that got us to being the success that we've been."

Presumably, that would include getting the ball into Faulk's hands more often. The all-purpose running back, arguably the greatest weapon in the NFL, has 21 catches for 127 yards in the opening two games but just 24 carries for 106. In the opening two games last season, when the Rams started 2-0, Faulk had 38 carries for 177 yards.

"There's no question we're going to try to do that. And we've tried to do that to some extent, but obviously teams key on Marshall a little bit," Warner said. "But, yeah, it doesn't matter how many times he touches it, you want to give it to him more. He's that kind of player. You want to make sure he's touching the ball because he gives you the best chance to win."

The Rams also have protected Warner better in the past. He was sacked four times by the Broncos and twice by the Giants but pressured countless other times.

And defensively, the Rams aren't playing near their level of a season ago, when new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith turned them into the league's third-best unit. After two games this season, the Rams are tied for 17th and repeatedly have failed to shut down opponents at crucial moments.

Still, the Rams remain the picture of calm and confidence. Except for Martz snapping at a reporter Monday, the Rams haven't hit the panic button -- even if everyone else has.

After all, three teams (2001 Patriots, 1996 Patriots and the 1993 Cowboys) have started a season 0-2 and reached the Super Bowl. No team has gone that far after starting 0-3.

"We've got to eliminate our errors, and we will," Martz said. "But I'll tell you this, if you're not careful you can end up beating yourself up over those things.

"I don't mean to ignore the obvious, because we've got to fix those things. But you can get yourself emotionally in a hole that you can't climb out of, if you're not careful."


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