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. It’s unfamiliar territory for a franchise accustomed to being near the top but one that endured a most dysfunctional season.
The Rams trailed the NFL with a 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.
And it all caught up to them.
“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 team.
“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, they were undone by a defense that recently had showed major signs of progress. The week before they were gouged for 327 yards rushing by the Falcons, they had 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.
The Rams end the season 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.”
Whatever momentum was built by winning three straight games against playoff teams was stopped cold by the Falcons loss.
“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.”