The St. Louis Rams’ painful season continues.
On the verge of being eliminated from the NFC West chase, the Rams will be missing their coach and starting quarterback when they face the Houston Texans for the first time.
St. Louis suffered its second straight loss last Sunday, 38-28 to the Arizona Cardinals. Besides falling to their former star quarterback, Kurt Warner, the Rams lost current starter Marc Bulger to a shoulder injury for at least two weeks and perhaps the rest of the season.
“At least (a few weeks),” Bulger said following a negative MRI on Monday.
The shoulder problem forced Bulger to miss two games earlier in the season and he doesn’t plan to rush back this time, leaving the quarterback reins to career backup Jamie Martin. The 35-year-old Martin got his first two NFL victories when Bulger was first injured, but he has never started more than two games in a season.
“You can’t doubt Jamie after what he’s done,” center Andy McCollum said. “Absolutely, we feel comfortable with him out there. He does a heck of a job.”
St. Louis already has been playing without coach Mike Martz, who stepped down for the season to recover from a heart ailment. In his place, interim coach Joe Vitt has gone 2-3.
“What I’m not going to do is take an air hose and stick it in their ear and start pumping them up,” Vitt said Monday after the loss to Arizona. “Hey, none of us slept last night, we all feel terrible.
“I’ve said it before, I don’t think anybody out there or here or anywhere is going to feel sorry about our sad story, it’s up to us.”
The Rams, who have also played stretches without receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, are facing a four-game deficit in the NFC West—a division they dominated earlier this decade. If St. Louis loses this game, the Seattle Seahawks can clinch the division title later in the day with a win over the New York Giants.
To start climbing back in the NFC wild-card race, the Rams would be helped by Steven Jackson bouncing back from a 12-carry, 6-yard performance against the Cardinals.
Production from Jackson also would make things easier on Martin.
“This is my career,” Martin said. “I’m a career backup to be ready in these situations. Having those two games earlier in the year under my belt really helps to kind of calm down this week and know what to expect and hopefully have some good games.”
While the Rams are holding out hope they can reach the playoffs for a sixth time in seven years, the Texans are simply looking to double their season win total.
Houston, owner of the league’s worst record at 1-9, is coming off a 45-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last week. The Texans turned in an error-filled performance after making progress the previous few weeks, losing close games at Jacksonville and Indianapolis after beating Cleveland for their only victory.
Quarterback David Carr, however, was not thinking back to any positive signs following the dreadful effort at home against the Chiefs.
“Last week was bad. The week before was bad,” said Carr, who fumbled twice and had an interception returned for a touchdown. “We had higher expectations than this.”
Houston committed penalties, made turnovers, missed assignments and turned in one of the worst performances in franchise history. The Texans need to go .500 over the rest of the season just to tie their expansion season record of 4-12.
“Nobody is going to quit,” said offensive tackle Chester Pitts. “It’s just not in us to quit. We are killing ourselves with mistakes. We find a way to get some momentum and then we kick ourselves in the tail. We can’t have that.”
The Texans rank 31st in total offense and 30th in total defense. One of the few bright spots has been kick returner Jerome Mathis, who returned a kickoff a team-record 99 yards for a touchdown against the Chiefs. Mathis is averaging 32.0 yards per return, best in the NFL since Ron Brown averaged 32.8 per return for the Rams in 1985.
Houston does have some winnable games down the stretch. The Texans play only one more team with a winning record (Jacksonville), and their schedule includes games against 2-8 teams Tennessee and San Francisco.
“We are not going out there to lose games,” defensive end Gary Walker said. “We want to win. … I’d give my check away right now for a win. That’s just the bottom line.”