Rams as we knew them are going, going . . . gone
The beautiful passing game: gone. The stylish running game: gone. The creative, offensive genius of coach Mike Martz: gone. The physical toughness: gone. The mental toughness: gone. The relentless hunger to be the best: gone. The swagger: gone.
Add it up, and the Rams have an 0-3 record after their 26-14 loss Monday to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is what happens when a team goes soft because of casual, country-club training camps and practices. This is what happens when a team loses its confidence after being sucker-punched and humiliated in a Super Bowl it should have won. This is what happens when too many draft picks go bust, and too many free-agent signings flop. This is what happens when the head coach worries more about accumulating organizational power instead of coaching. This is what happens when the attention to detail drifts away. The Rams have lost their edge. They just don't have the old sharpness. They're like a washed-up boxer with slow reflexes. "We have to dig ourselves out of this hole and fight back," Martz said. "We created this situation and we have to be good enough to get out."
We've heard a similar mantra for three weeks now. But Martz has failed to motivate, or fix, his team. And its big-name players aren't coming up big. Quarterback Kurt Warner threw four more interceptions Monday. One was returned for a touchdown; another set up an easy TD. For the season, Warner has one touchdown pass and seven interceptions. And after Monday's game, the Bucs said Warner is locking onto his primary receiver, making it easy to read his intentions. "All game we were getting good jumps on the ball," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "For some reason he has been looking real hard at his receivers."
If Warner's stunning decline continues, he'll soon be compared to Jim Everett. But really, is it any wonder that Warner has the happy feet going? His offensive line is getting bullied. Warner is being pounded. And now future Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk's status is in doubt because of a strained neck that put him out of Monday's game. If the Rams lose Faulk for a lengthy amount of time, they're in deep trouble. Then again, they're already in quicksand. Faulk or no Faulk. The 2002 Rams look like the same old Rams - the pre-1999 version. This team, once so proudly defiant, left its heart on the floor of the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. And the club still is searching.
Face up to it, St. Louis: This 0-3 is no fluke. The Rams have been outplayed in all three games. If we revert to the Super Bowl, the offense formerly known as the Greatest Show on Earth as averaged only 17 points over the last four real games. Hey, at least the Rams managed to outscore the baseball Cardinals, who had 13 runs against Arizona on Monday. It's no joke. The Rams were expected to make an epic statement on national TV: "We're the Rams. We still rule. Watch us put on a show, just like the old days."
Instead, the Rams revealed all of their flaws, and could not hide from the truth. It was all there in open view. Warner isn't the same QB we saw during 1999-2001. There's no punch up front; the O-line is terrible. The team speed seems to be down; you just don't see Rams wideouts getting much separation. And if they aren't running slower, the receivers are running the wrong routes. The Rams' defense gives up too many early points, leading to quick, troublesome deficits. And Martz, who could dissect a defense like no other coach, suddenly has lost his surgical touch. Where are the diabolical Martz plays that once left defenses so hopelessly disoriented? The Rams gave us three wonderful years of dazzling entertainment. We thank them for it. We witnessed the three best three years in St. Louis NFL history. Sad to say, but the 1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons already qualify as nostalgia.
Bernie Miklasz The St.Louis Post-Despatch September 2002