It was February 2002, and the Rams were 14-point favorites over New England in Super Bowl XXXVI. But when the game ended, the Patriots had won, and nothing has been the same for the Rams ever since.
The two teams play Sunday in St. Louis, and coach Mike Martz insists that what happened 33 months ago doesn't matter.
"Payback really isn't an issue with me," Martz said. "We are just trying to keep our head above water, so I just don't look at it like that. If we were better, then maybe I would consider (that). I think if we were ever fortunate enough to see each other again in the Super Bowl, then maybe that would be something to think about, but not really because we are so different, personnel-wise, from where we were then. Coaches, too -- we have a lot of new coaches. I think it is a thrill to play them because I know they are the best, and that part of it, the challenge of it, for me is more exciting than the thought of any kind of payback."
Asked if anything can be learned from the Patriots about that game and a regular-season game the Rams won earlier that season in New England, Martz said, "That is a hard question to ask because, both those games, they played each game so differently, and I would suspect that they may play this one completely differently. I don't know. So, if you go into a game anticipating something that you have seen before, and this is what we like to do, you are going to be sorely mistaken.
"I know that there will be enough changeups and curveballs for us offensively to have to see on defense that I just don't feel that kind of a situation is appropriate. You have to stay on your toes. We just don't have the luxury because we are not that good, to feel like that. Do you know what I mean? I don't know if that makes sense. We don't have the same capabilities as we did then."
Said Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson, "We can't make up for a couple years ago in New Orleans. "But we can get a little bit of that respect back ... by taking care of business. We don't like the way we left that thing before the bye week. We didn't play Rams football."
The Rams are 4-3 and tied for first place in the NFC West with Seattle, and that is what takes precedence over the team being played.
"For us right now, where we are, we're struggling to stay on top of the division any way we can," Martz said. "So that's the most important thing. Obviously, the Patriots and the history we have with them is kind of special. But we're just so concerned right now about getting better. And guys like (rookie) Tony Hargrove and some of those guys, they have no idea."
SERIES HISTORY: Ninth regular-season meeting. Rams lead 5-3. The Rams have won four straight in the regular season, including a home win over New England in 1998.
- --The Rams returned to work from their bye after coach Mike Martz gave the
team the entire week off except for running and conditioning. It has been
the way Martz has done it since becoming head coach in 2000, and the Rams
have been 4-0 in games after the bye, winning them by a combined score of
"It was hard to do initially because people just don't do it," Martz said. "You don't know how the players will take it. You trust these guys, and you tell them why you're doing it.
"When you look at camp, and the preseason, and the first half of the season, their bodies kind of need the break. And when they come out of a bye, they usually feel pretty good. ... When we first did it, I was a little nervous about it, but I just felt like it was the right thing to do. It seems to work pretty good."
Said DL Tyoka Jackson, "The way he handles our (bye week) schedule, I think he does it the right way. You come back fresh and re-energized. It gives everybody a chance to take a deep breath, refocus themselves."
Added guard Tom Nutten, "What's not to like? Especially when it's in Week 8, halfway through the season, more or less. It's nice the way coach Martz has it, where it really gives us a good break, mentally and physically.
"You get your lifts in, and you're done. You almost feel like doing extra. More than you have to do."
- --The Rams were listed as 2 1/2-point underdogs for Sunday's game against
New England. This is just the second time since early in the 1999 season that
the Rams haven't been favored at home.
And they won that game, a 28-13 victory over Oakland on Oct. 13, 2002, when QB Marc Bulger was making his first NFL start. The Raiders, at 4-0, were eight-point favorites over a Rams team that started the season 0-5.
Before that game, the Rams had been favored at home in 28 straight games. Since that game, the Rams had been favored in 13 consecutive games.
- --Newly signed defensive back Tod McBride is playing safety for the Rams,
the first time he's been at that position since his senior season at UCLA.
But he's happy.
"I'll finally be going back to the middle, and I think it'll suit me fine," McBride said. He added that the switch from cornerback is "just a little more physical play at the safety position. But as far as recognizing routes and knowing the secondary, I think it's all fairly much the same."
- --After the loss to Miami Oct. 24, coach Mike Martz complained to the league about a non-call on Dolphins DE Jason Taylor, who he believed was excessive in ramming Bulger into the ground. Taylor was fined $7,500 even though there was no penalty called on the play.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's one of the most respected coaches. I respect him more than anything. He was one of the guys that gave me a shot to come back and play after I had my two Achilles (injuries), so I owe him a lot." -- Rams TE Cam Cleeland on Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
- --RT Grant Williams took all the snaps with the first unit in practice Wednesday.
Williams is recovered from a neck stinger suffered against Miami on Oct. 24.
- --LB Brandon Chillar returned to practice Wednesday after injuring his
hamstring in the Rams' game Oct. 24 against Miami. It's hoped Chillar will
be able to contribute on special teams.
- --TE Cam Cleeland, who suffered an ankle injury in practice Monday, was
held out of practice Wednesday but is expected to work Friday and be available
to play Sunday against New England.
- --WR Dane Looker is unlikely to play against New England because of a high
ankle injury suffered Oct. 24 against Miami.
- --QB Chris Chandler is expected to be the holder for PK Jeff Wilkins with
WR Dane Looker sidelined because of an ankle injury.
- --DL Tyoka Jackson missed part of team practice Wednesday but is still considered probable after missing two games because of a hamstring injury.
GAME PLAN: Play mistake-free on offense and attack the Patriots' injury-riddled secondary. With CBs Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, expect the Rams to come out throwing while mixing the run against a team that has had some issues against the run. Defensively, the Rams have to control QB Tom Brady and RB Corey Dillon, if he plays.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Rams WRs vs. Patriots DBs -- With Ty law and Tyrone Poole out for the Patriots, depth is a serious issue. The only corners are Asante Samuel and Randall Gay, so Eugene Wilson might move from free safety to cornerback. If Wilson moves to corner, rookie Dexter Reid might be forced to start at free safety.
Rams DLE Leonard Little vs. Patriots RT Brandon Gorin -- With Tom Ashworth expected to miss the game, the Patriots could try Gorin or someone else to handle Little. Whoever it is will have their hands full.
INJURY IMPACT: The Rams are as healthy as they've been all season. DT Jimmy Kennedy is back from a broken foot and expected to play for the first time Sunday. WR Dane Looker is out an unspecified period of time because of a high ankle sprain.