Rams on 3-game winning streak
Published: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 1:13 a.m.
ST. LOUIS - The confounding St. Louis Rams are suddenly on a roll. They became the first .500 team to win a playoff game with a 27-20 win in Seattle that capped a three-game winning streak.
"The last three weeks this is a different team than the previous 14 weeks," coach Mike Martz said. "This is kind of who I think we are."
The Rams were among the NFC's preseason favorites but just squeezed into the postseason at 8-8.
They were hurt by injuries and infighting, including Martz's confrontation with the entire team after an 18-point loss to New England. Then there was the yearlong struggle to grasp the scheme of new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie and the woeful special teams.
"We have had a lot of turmoil," said tight end Cam Cleeland, who caught the game-winning TD pass with 2:11 left. "A soap opera team."
Martz thought St. Louis, a 12-4 division champion last year, would be up to speed by midseason. Instead it finally came together in weeks 15 and 16 when the Rams beat the Eagles and the Jets. But there's an asterisk - Philadelphia had already clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs and rested most of their key performers for the playoffs.
"Here we are," Martz said. "At this point, only the strong survive."
Better late than never for the Rams, who will play at Atlanta on Saturday in the divisional round after completing a three-game sweep of the NFC West champion Seahawks.
"Every week now for three weeks it's been do or die," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "With the way that everyone is playing it's fun again. It wasn't there for a while."
The confidence is growing although the Rams have won only three times on the road - twice at Seattle and once at San Francisco, the NFL's worst team.
In Seattle, Marc Bulger threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns, the fast-improving defense held Shaun Alexander to 40 yards on 15 carries and special teams were no longer a liability.
"You are going to see an even better team next week," Cleeland said. "This was a complete and utter team victory."
Bulger puts little stock in his first playoff victory, partly because of what lies ahead.
"This isn't the end of the season," Bulger said. "We're just to the point where we were last year. Whoever we play is going to be tough but it's nice that we're playing our best football."
Second-year player Kevin Curtis caught four passes for 107 yards, his first career 100-yard game, and he and Sean McDonald are becoming effective complements to the team's established duo of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
Bulger noted that the Rams that went to two Super Bowls from 1999-2001 had this kind of diversity with the likes of Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl diverting attention.
"You can't double everyone," Bulger said. "I think we're starting to get that matchup with the third and fourth guy on safeties and linebackers."
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