Show of unity
Embattled Rams defense starting to make plays
Updated: Friday December 29, 2000 12:58 AM
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The playoffs represent a new lease on life for the St. Louis Rams' defense.
A week ago, players were talking about the likelihood the unit would be ripped apart in the offseason. No one seemed safe.
Cornerback Todd Lyght and outside linebackers Mike Jones and Todd Collins could be on their way out, whenever the season ends. Defensive coordinator Peter Giunta could be out, considering consultant Bud Carson has been calling the signals in recent weeks. The team would likely slap a franchise tag on end Kevin Carter, who has had a disappointing season, then perhaps trade him.
Everything has quieted down now, with the Rams (10-6) having miraculously qualified to defend their Super Bowl championship and awaiting a rematch with the Saints (10-6) in a wild-card game Saturday in New Orleans.
"You hate talking about breaking up a family, and I believe that's what we are," tackle D'Marco Farr said. "We just needed some kind of motivation.
"I think we've found something we can really chew on now."
A week ago, strong safety Devin Bush figured his days were numbered with the team for salary cap reasons. He's due for about a $1 million raise to $2 million next season.
But if the Rams keep winning, who knows?
"If we go out and dominate in the playoffs and get back to a respectable defense, then everything else is forgotten," Bush said. "The group's together now and all we can do is play together and try to win every game, and whatever happens after that, so be it."
The front office isn't getting overly excited about the latest effort. In the second half of the season, the defense has been said to have turned the corner several times.
"We still have to address everything at the end of the year," general manager Charley Armey said. "We want to make sure we make an honest evaluation.
"A lot of it now is the competitive juices kicking in, and I'm really proud of them."
Many Rams still seem unclear what happened to the unit that lost only one starter, but fell from No. 6 in the NFL in a single season.
"I don't know," tackle Ray Agnew said. "I wish I knew."
What they do know is they're coming off one of their best defensive efforts. The week after the defense all but killed the Rams' playoff hopes by allowing 38 points to a so-so Bucs offense, they held the Saints without a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
They also put the clamps on quarterback Aaron Brooks, who had a breakout debut against the Rams in New Orleans' 31-24 victory in Week 12
In his first career start, Brooks was 17-for-28 for 190 yards and a touchdown, and ran for two more scores. In the rematch Sunday, he had comparable numbers, going 16-for-31 for 208 yards, but was nowhere near as dangerous.
The Rams perhaps shook his confidence when Dre' Bly ended the Saints' first series with an interception.
"Getting that interception early kind of bottled him up," free safety Keith Lyle said. "Now, he wants to go out there with the intent of not losing the game."
Other big early plays included a sack and forced fumble by Carter, and a forced fumble by Lyght. In the second half, Bush had perfect timing on a devastating hit that broke up a pass to Keith Poole.
Before the season finale, head coach Mike Martz told the defense they were the key the rest of the way because they're the unknown element. He knows the No. 1 offense will always show up.
Last week at least, he had zero complaints about the defense, not even to nit-pick. Players are anxious to keep that good feeling going.
"It was a road trip getting here," Lyle said. "But we're here, man, so we're just going to make the most of it."