It’s no secret that the St. Louis Rams are at their best when they throw the ball with regularity. Given the current state of the New England Patriots’ secondary, they don’t figure to deviate from that routine.
With the Patriots suddenly vulnerable due to several injuries to key players, the well-rested Rams will try to take advantage when the teams meet for the first time since Super Bowl XXXVI.
Costly turnovers and several injuries contributed to New England’s 34-20 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday, ending the Patriots’ NFL-record 21-game win streak.
Tom Brady threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and also lost a fumble as Pittsburgh essentially put the game away with 21 points in the first quarter. The loss was the first for the Patriots since Sept. 28, 2003, at Washington.
“It’s not something I think we want to get used to,” tight end Christian Fauria said. “Nothing good comes out of losing. There’s winning and then there’s complete misery. I don’t think there’s any gray area.”
While the Patriots still may be the NFL’s best team, extending their streak on the road against the surging Steelers without injured running back Corey Dillon figured to be very difficult. Dillon, averaging more than 100 yards per game, sat out with a sore thigh muscle and he’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s contest.
Making matters worse for New England was an injury to Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law, who sustained a broken bone in his left foot in the first quarter that will sideline him four to six weeks. Law was replaced by rookie Randall Gay, who was immediately beaten by Plaxico Burress for a 47-yard touchdown.
The Patriots were already without their other starting corner, Tyrone Poole, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury.
Without Law and Poole, New England may be forced to use Gay, Asante Samuel and perhaps Eugene Wilson, who could move over from safety, against Rams receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, who have combined for 81 receptions for 1,126 yards this season.
“We can make excuses from here to next year, but it doesn’t matter,” Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said. “We have to go out there with the weapons that we have and we have to get ready and give it our best shot.”
Facing the high-powered Rams with a makeshift secondary will be enough of a challenge for New England, but St. Louis has the added advantage of coming off a bye.
The time off gave the Rams plenty of time to reflect on their disappointing performance in a 31-14 loss at Miami on Oct. 24, the Dolphins’ only win this season.
St. Louis is 4-0 in games coming out of bye weeks under coach Mike Martz, winning those contests by a combined 156-67 score.
“We don’t like the way we left that thing before the bye,” defensive tackle Tyoka Jackson said. “We’ve got an extra day of practice just to focus on who we are and what we did, and try to eliminate the mistakes and play like the Rams.”
Martz said it doesn’t make any difference to him whether the Patriots entered this game with their win streak intact or not.
“We’re struggling to stay on top of the division any way we can,” he said. “Obviously the history we have with them is kind of special, but we’re just so concerned right now about getting better.”
St. Louis had 372 total yards against Miami, but was 2-of-13 on third-down conversions. The Rams’ one turnover was costly, as Marc Bulger was intercepted in the end zone with his team threatening to tie the game in the third quarter.
While the Patriots know they won’t have Law available Sunday, getting Dillon back would be a huge lift because the Rams are ranked 27th in the NFL against the run.