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Around the NFC

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 1, 2001

St. Louis plans changes for its underacheiving defense

Massive changes are coming for the Rams on defense. Just not right away.

Coach Mike Martz was mum on that subject and others on Sunday, a day after St. Louis was eliminated in a 31-28 wild-card loss to the Saints. The rookie coach canceled a scheduled post-game news conference while mulling the defensive overhaul and is giving his staff a week off.

"It's obviously no secret, we have to rebuild our linebacking corps, and we have to find some young linebackers that can run," general manager Charley Armey said. "It's just safe to say the defense has to be retooled."

The defense went from sixth in the NFL to 23rd in a single season, with 10 of 11 starters back, and allowed 30 points per game. That's the most ever by a playoff team, and the points allowed are the seventh-highest total in NFL history.

NO BREAKS: Having survived a furious fourth-quarter rally by the St. Louis offense on Saturday, the Saints brace for another high-powered offense in the Vikings.

In 10 of their 16 games this season, the Vikings scored 27 or more points.

"We can celebrate beating the Rams for about 10 minutes and then we have to go to work and concentrate on the Vikings and what we need to improve when we play them," Saints safety Sammy Knight said. "We have to be able to go into a hostile stadium and not only play well, but keep our focus for the entire game."

PLAYING IN PAIN: Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper has resigned himself to the idea that his sprained right ankle will not be right for the rest of the post-season.

"You just have to play through it," he said. "I know for the morale of the team, and to keep everyone up, I've got to play through this. ... I mean, we want to be world champions. We got three games. That's it. I can do that."

He isn't the only Viking with that attitude.

Less than two weeks after surgery, veteran receiver Chris Walsh fractured his cheek bone again in the finale against the Colts, although this time the break won't require an operation.

Starting right tackle Korey Stringer hyperextended his knee against Indianapolis but has promised to play in the divisional playoff game. Mitch Berger pulled his groin during warmups against the Colts but managed to average 46 yards on seven punts.

And even though they may not be on the injury report, players insist anyone who played regularly this season is dealing with some sort of physical ailment.

"There's no one out there who's 100 percent healthy," receiver Cris Carter said. "If you've been playing for three or four months, you're going to have a nick here or there."

RELIEVED?: When the Rams were eliminated after their near comeback fell short, Giants coach Jim Fassel insisted he wasn't opening any New Year's champagne 24 hours early.

If anything, the coach who doesn't have to play the NFL's most explosive offense sounded like a fan.

"Wasn't that something?" Fassel told New York's Daily News after the Saints' 31-28 win. "You saw what that team is all about -- they showed all their firepower at the end there.

"But you can't win with penalties and turnovers. They made too many mistakes. The Saints were the better team."

Had the Rams finished their comeback, they would have advanced to meet the Giants Sunday. It's a matchup nobody connected with the Giants really wanted to see, after the Rams' pass offense torched them each of the last two seasons.

But Fassel swore he wasn't pacing the floor or biting his fingernails in the final minutes.

"My mentality has been, 'I don't care who we play,' " he said. "It's who's playing the best. I was pretty darn impressed with (the Saints)."

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