Rams, Eagles find more than 1 way to lose a game

Defeats reveal flaws in teams that played for NFC championship

Week 1 in review

Pro Football

September 10, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The St. Louis Rams lost because coach Mike Martz was too greedy.

The Philadelphia Eagles lost because coach Andy Reid was too conservative.

Which goes to prove once again there are any number of ways to lose on any given Sunday.

Martz wanted a go-ahead touchdown instead of a tying field goal at Denver this week, got neither and suffered an unsightly 23-16 loss to the Broncos.

Reid wanted to eat up the clock with a running game he really doesn't have after building a 14-point lead at Tennessee and swallowed a prickly 27-24 loss to the Titans.

That odd juxtaposition suggests the NFC race for Super Bowl XXXVII is more wide-open than previously thought. At the least, it gives heart to the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and, yes, even the Washington Redskins, all of whom struggled but won in Week 1.

The St. Louis and Philadelphia losses also confirmed significant, if correctable, flaws in the makeup of the two teams that played in last January's NFC championship game.

For the Rams, here comes that word again. Finesse. A year ago, they were able to deflect that thinly veiled criticism in their Super Bowl run, only to get it shoved down their throats by the New England Patriots in a shocking upset.

Seven months later, the Rams still haven't figured out how to deal with a punishing style of defensive opponent. On Sunday, they watched another physical defense take them out of their offensive comfort zone.

NFL MVP quarterback Kurt Warner threw for 315 yards but no touchdowns.

Running back Marshall Faulk ran 10 times (for only 19 yards) and caught 14 passes (for 91) but didn't get the ball when it mattered most. That was late in the third quarter, when the Rams had closed to within 16-13 and faced fourth-and-one at the Denver 9.

Martz eschewed a tying field goal and called for a pass to fullback Chris Hetherington, forgetting momentarily that he had Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Ernie Conwell on his side. Hetherington, perhaps numb that he got the call, stumbled over a foot coming out of the backfield and never did catch the pass.

It was a double whammy for Martz. Too often, he wants to beat teams with his glitzy scheme rather than his superior talent. This time, it backfired because he had the Broncos on the ropes and picked the wrong time to gamble. The Denver fans were booing quarterback Brian Griese - with a lead - and coach Mike Shanahan was ready to insert backup Steve Beuerlein if the Rams had scored.

A field goal would have changed the game completely, but Martz decided it wasn't enough to get a tie. He defended his strategy this way after the game:

"I felt like we needed the points, No. 1, and this is a play that was one of those 100 percent plays that, all of a sudden, isn't 100 percent anymore. We will be aggressive in our approach. Some may question it, but that's how I'm going to approach it."

Reid wasn't quite that stubborn. After his run-the-clock-out strategy failed, he was quick to shoulder the blame. He acknowledged his faux pas again yesterday.

"I have to put my players in a better situation by my play-calling," Reid said at his weekly news conference. "I've got to be more aggressive in that second half. I did not attack, which goes against the way I like to do things."

The Eagles ran just well enough in the third quarter to make Reid believe they could. He called seven runs in a row at one point, and the offense drove to the Titans' 25. But a penalty, a negative-yardage run and a sack took them back out of field-goal range. When they had to go back to the pass in the fourth quarter, it wasn't working any longer.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb threw three first-half touchdowns but two second-half interceptions. When Tennessee scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, the game was lost.

The Eagles know now they are more of a passing team than ever.

And so does everyone else.

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