Previewing St. Louis

At this point, the Cowboys are just hoping to have something to play for Sunday night against the Rams.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 ET

GAMEDATE: 1/1/06

SURFACE: Grass

TV: ESPN, Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, Suzy Kolber

SERIES: 19th regular-season meeting. The series is tied 9-9, and the teams also have split eight playoff meetings. However, the clubs have met just once since 1992, and that was a 13-10 Cowboys victory in St. Louis in 2002. The Rams have won the last two games played in Dallas, but those were in 1989 and '92.

2005 RANKINGS: Rams: offense 9th (24th rush, 4th pass); defense 30th (30th rush, 22nd pass). Cowboys: offense 13th (12th rush, 15th pass); defense 11th (14th rush, 13th pass).

PREDICTION: Cowboys 30-21.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cowboys will know by game time if they are playing for a postseason berth or simply for pride. No matter what the situation, however, Dallas will use RB Julius Jones to pound away at a pitiful Rams run defense that is allowing 4.9 yards per carry. St. Louis' secondary is an extremely poor tackling unit, but it must find a way to limit big plays on the ground. St. Louis' only hope is to put QB Drew Bledsoe in long passing situations and then attack Dallas's shaky pass protection. Offensively, St. Louis will start Jamie Martin at quarterback. He has a better command of the offense than rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he still gets bit by too many interceptions. RB Steven Jackson was limited by a hip pointer last week, but the Rams hope he will be able to carry more of the load in the season finale.

FAST FACTS: Rams: WR Torry Holt is second in franchise history with 54 touchdowns. ... RB Marshall Faulk needs 59 rushing yards to pass Jim Brown (12,312) for eighth-most all-time. Cowboys: Jones needs 42 rushing yards to become franchise's first 1,000-yard rusher since Emmitt Smith in 2001. ... WR Keyshawn Johnson needs five receptions to past Andre Rison (743) for 20th on the all-time list.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Rams: --QB Jamie Martin returned to practice Thursday after leaving Wednesday's workout with the stomach flu. He took all of the snaps with the first unit.

--RB Marshall Faulk is the latest player to be hit with the stomach flu, missing Thursday's practice.

--RB Steven Jackson missed another day of practice because of a hip pointer. Jackson likely will try to play Sunday, but his effectiveness will be in question.

--OL Larry Turner fought through practice Thursday with symptoms of the stomach flu. Turner threw up into a garbage can on the side of the field.

--DT Damione Lewis, who missed practice Wednesday because of a knee injury, practiced Thursday and is expected to play Sunday night against Dallas.

--DT Jimmy Kennedy did not practice Thursday because of a tight groin, but he is expected to play Sunday against the Cowboys.

--DT Tyoka Jackson has a groin injury and did not practice Thursday. He is expected to play Sunday against Dallas.

Cowboys: --G Marco Rivera (neck strain) practiced Thursday for the first time this week. He was still limited and remains questionable for Sunday night's game against the Rams.

"We'll see if he can function," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said.

If he can't, look for Andre Gurode for the second straight week at right guard.

--WR Patrick Crayton has one catch for 24 yards since returning from ankle surgery four games ago. He had 18 receptions in five games before the injury. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells blamed rust and technical problems. "We worked hard early in the season on getting rid of a couple of (technical issues), and he seemingly had gotten rid of them and was starting to produce," Parcells said. "But when he came back, they were back. Like the measles."

--CB Jacques Reeves has been a big help to the Cowboys, considering CBs Anthony Henry and Aaron Glenn have been hobbled by injuries. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells thinks Reeves can be better next year if he has Lasik surgery. "He's come in and made some plays for us," Parcells said. "I think he's improving as a player, myself. He tackles, and he's very fast. And he's learning how to play.

"Now I think at the end of the season we're going to have to get something done with his eyes a little bit. I think after the summer, unknowingly, it might have held him back a little bit in his career, I don't know. But I think he's thinking about that."

--CB Anthony Henry (abdominal strain) practiced Thursday and is listed as probable for Sunday night's game against the Rams. Of course, he was probable last week before being declared unfit to play. Henry has missed five starts because injuries this season after getting a $10 million signing bonus in the offseason. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said he is frustrated with the situation but not frustrated with Henry, who missed only three games in his previous four years combined.

"I think this it's frustrating for everybody -- him, me, the trainers, the doctors. Everybody," Parcells said. "The tests we have done recently here, it's hard to figure exactly where it is. But you have to talk to the player. You have to ask him. I don't think he doesn't want to contribute."

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Rams: The Rams aren't going to the playoffs. They have double-digit losses for the first time since 1998. And a win Sunday at Dallas would push their first-round draft pick to a later spot.

Yet all the talk within the team this week is about ending the season on a winning note. And if the Rams could knock the Cowboys out of the playoffs, that's even better, though most players didn't think that was such a big deal.

Asked if the team relishes being a spoiler, linebacker Trev Faulk said, "No, not really. We just desperately need to try to find a way to win a game. You can call it a spoiler or whatever, but we're just going in trying to win a game, trying to find a way to get a victory and stop the bleeding."

Faulk said it's tough even being asked about being a spoiler.

"It is," he said, "but like (interim coach) Joe Vitt always says, 'It is what it is.' The situation is what it is. Our record is what it is, and the season is going how it's going. So we can't salvage the season, but we can just go in there, give it everything we have and try to come out with a victory."

Wide receiver Shaun McDonald said there isn't much talk about spoiling the Cowboys' postseason party. "I don't know if we're really thinking about that," McDonald said. "We're just thinking about getting a win. We haven't won in a lot of games in a row, so we're worried about getting this win.

"This is the last game you're going to play for a long time, so you have to go out there and give it your all and play. You have to play for your pride and for your teammates, so it's going to be a good game Sunday night. We're going to be up for this game."

However, rookie cornerback Ron Bartell is one player who believes being a spoiler is good.

"It's definitely important," Bartell said. "You want to win every game you play, and this is just an added incentive. We're going home, so we want to send as many people with us as possible."

Cowboys: This is not the season Cowboys running back Julius Jones expected or hoped for.

He came into the year hoping to rush for 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns. But because of a lingering ankle injury that kept him out of three games and poor blocking up front, he has 958 yards and five touchdowns heading into Sunday's season finale against the Rams.

Yet 2005 still has a chance to a special season for Jones.

With 42 yards rushing, he would reach the 1,000-yard mark.

Jones would become the fifth player in Cowboys history to rush for 1,000 yards, joining Emmitt Smith, Calvin Hill, Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett.

More special for Jones is that he would join his brother at the 1,000-yard mark this season, which would make NFL history. Thomas Jones has 1,273 yards for the Bears.

No other brother tandem has rushed for 1,000 yards apiece in a season, let alone the same season, in the history of the NFL.

Jones said he and Thomas have talked about the feat for years, and he said it would be great to accomplish it against the Rams.

But Jones' main focus on Sunday will be to help the Cowboys make the playoffs.

They need a victory and loss by the Washington or Carolina, among a number of possible postseason scenarios.

Either way, look for Jones to be a big part of the equation against a Rams defense that gives up 141.4 yards per game. Only two teams in the league are worse than the Rams against the run.

That bodes well for Jones, who said he felt better in last week's 24-20 victory against the Panthers than he has all season. Jones rushed 34 times for 194 yards and two touchdowns. It his first 100-yard game of the season and the fourth time in the past two years that he has rushed for at least 149 yards.

"I felt good," Jones said. "I was healthy and explosive. It showed."

For the first time, Jones looked like he did last year, when he rushed for 803 yards and seven touchdowns in the final seven games.

He and the Cowboys expected him to pick up where he left off in 2005. That hadn't happened, at least not until the 15th game.

"Sometimes things happen, and that's what happened," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "He'll be all right. This is what it's like. You think you're going to feel good every week. You think it's going to be smooth sailing. It's not going to be. That's the way it is. They are after you."

Parcells said he got as big a charge as Jones did following the back's performance against the Panthers.

"Just to see him after the game, I was kind of going up the tunnel with him and put my arm around him and kind of squeezed his head a little bit, you know, just so he knows that I knew, hey, you did a good job," Parcells said. "I said, 'Hey, that's my guy right there.' That makes him feel good."

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