ST. LOUIS -- In the end, the St. Louis Rams looked more like a .500 team than a dangerous playoff spoiler.
The across-the-board spanking they absorbed in Saturday's 47-17 playoff loss to the Falcons exposed so many problems that coach Mike Martz might not
know where to start after a dysfunctional season. It's unfamiliar territory for a franchise accustomed to being near the top.
The Rams were minus-24 in takeaway ratio. They were at or near the bottom in all special teams categories. They were outscored by 73 points in the
regular season. The offense, aside from occasional quick strikes, was far removed from the years when it was dubbed the Greatest Show on Turf.
"We've come a long ways and yet there's a long ways to go," Martz said. "When we started the season we thought we could develop into a pretty good
"With all of the things that happened to us, obviously we fell short."
Coming off a 12-4 season and NFC West championship, the Rams were among the preseason Super Bowl favorites. Instead, they were saddled all year by
porous run defense and the NFL's worst special teams.
In the blowout loss to the Falcons, the Rams were undone by a defense that recently showed major signs of progress. The week before they were gouged
for 327 yards rushing by the Falcons, they held the Seahawks' Shaun Alexander to 40 yards on 15 carries.
And, as several Rams pointed out, despite Michael Vick's special talents the Falcons haven't been that dominating.
"We made them look like they were Indianapolis," defensive end Bryce Fisher said.
Now, the Rams exit with more questions about the scheme of new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie. Martz and Marmie are longtime friends and Martz has
been steadfast in his support, so what, then, to make of the meltdown?
"I didn't expect that," Martz said. "I don't know what happened."
The Rams have addressed defense in recent drafts, with little results. There are three first rounders on the line that got manhandled by the Falcons,
and two high picks at linebacker, Robert Thomas and Tommy Polley, have been disappointments.
Special teams have been a Rams weakness since Martz took over for Dick Vermeil in 2000, and changing coaches hasn't helped. Still, after Allen Rossum
burned the Rams for an NFL playoff record 152 yards in punt returns, including a 68-yard touchdown, first-year assistant coach Mike Stock might be in
Beyond coaching, the team faces several personnel questions. Many are on the offensive line, which was scrambled most of the year.
Right tackle Kyle Turley missed the entire season after reinjuring his surgically repaired back early in training camp, and the Rams may need a
permanent replacement. Turley was down to about 240 pounds - nearly 70 off his playing weight - about a month ago, plus he and Martz engaged in a
shouting match in early December.
Guard Tom Nutten, who came out of retirement to help patch up the line, may retire again for good after reinjuring his right knee on Saturday.
"I think my body's trying to tell me something," Nutten said. "I'm not sure if I want to listen to my mind and heart that wants to keep playing, or my
body that says I've had enough."
The Rams are likely to place the franchise tag on left tackle Orlando Pace for a third straight season. Pace has ended his relationship with the
Poston brothers and is shopping for a new agent, which could help the team sign him to a multiyear contract and get him to training camp.
Help might be needed at defensive end. Leonard Little faces possible jail time and/or an NFL suspension for his charge of drunken driving, combined
with a conviction for vehicular manslaughter from a 1998 accident.
Whatever momentum was built by winning three straight games against playoff teams was stopped cold by the loss to the Falcons.
"Next year, it'll be a new year," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "There will be a lot of new guys."
Until then, there'll be a bad taste. Fisher refused to address the Falcons' worthiness as a Super Bowl team.
"Truthfully, I don't care," Fisher said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm done watching and done paying attention to football."