Vitt says it’s his fault Rams’ play deteriorated

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:20 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Interim coach or not, the buck stops at Joe Vitt’s door.

The St. Louis Rams’ fill-in leader blames himself for not keeping the 5-10 team in contention. On Monday, two days after the Rams lost to the lowly 49ers for their sixth setback in seven games, that was the theme of his news conference.

“If I had done a better job of preparing our team, we may be better right now,” Vitt said. “It’s on me. This is my fault.”

The Rams have nine players on injured reserve, including both cornerbacks and quarterback Marc Bulger. Vitt was coaching linebackers in early October before stepping into the job that Mike Martz vacated due to a heart ailment.

All he knows is the Rams have dropped six of seven heading into the season finale on Sunday at Dallas, and are 3-7 overall with him coaching.

“This has been on me,” he said again. “I’ve got to do a better job. We’ve just got to win, we’ve got to get a win.”

Vitt made it clear that Martz, who’s been cleared by his physician to return to duty on game day, should shoulder no blame in the team’s unraveling act. The team is expected to reach a settlement on the final year of Martz’ three-year contract sometime after the season ends.

“This has been me, this has been my responsibility,” Vitt said. “These losses are on me and me alone.”

The Rams were 5-6 and apparently surging after rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick rallied them from 10 points down in the final half minute in an overtime victory at Houston on Nov. 27.

The next four games, all losses, the Rams have been in position to win but just haven’t made the crucial play.

They trailed the Redskins by three entering the fourth quarter of a 24-9 loss on Dec. 4. The next week they were tied 13-13 with the Vikings in the third quarter of a 27-13 loss. They squandered a 16-7 lead against the Eagles on Dec. 18, losing 17-16. And on Saturday they were outscored 17-0 after taking a 20-7 lead.

The Rams had the ball deep in 49ers territory three times in the fourth quarter, but came up empty on the second failed critical fourth-and-1 run in two weeks and a pair of interceptions.

“I’m probably trying to shove the situation down the players’ throat instead of really taking what they give us and getting points,” Vitt said. “I feel bad about that. I haven’t done anything to help this team get over the hump.”

That said, the 51-year-old Vitt has appreciated his time on the hot seat. He said the worst part has been the daily media sessions.

“I’ve had a ball,” he said. “The biggest fear I had was having to talk to you guys every day, it really is. As far as the practice goes, as far as the interaction with the players, as far as game preparation, we were all kind of thrown into this thing and the staff has given me wonderful support.”

Aside from a plethora of missed tackles that have cost the Rams dearly, Vitt has no problem with the players who he said have not jumped ship.

“There is no place that I would rather be, right here and right now with these people,” Vitt said. “Our players have fought, they’ve worked hard.

“I feel the same way about this team as I did when I took this thing over. It’s been an honor, it’s been fun.”

MARTIN GETS START: Jamie Martin will start the Rams’ season finale at quarterback.

Last week, interim coach Joe Vitt delayed making his pick public until the day before the Rams’ 24-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, even though Martin practiced with the first unit all week.

Martin ended up playing, throwing for a career-best 354 yards against the 49ers, though he had two fourth-quarter interceptions and the Rams squandered a 20-7 lead. Vitt said Monday that he will start again.

“He had the two interceptions which we just can’t have, but Jamie all day long gave us a chance to win the game,” Vitt said. “At one point we’re up 20-7 and he’s rocking and rolling.

Martin is 105-for-145 on the season, completing 72.4 percent of his passes, with five touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Fitzpatrick, who did not throw a touchdown pass in any of his three starts, has completed 56.3 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Entering the season, Martin had thrown 340 passes and made three starts in his entire 11-year career. This will be his fifth start this season.

Rams starter Marc Bulger, who is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, started eight games.

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