Faulk back as Rams prepare for Ravens

Sunday, November 9, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- At least the Rams will have one of their MVPs back on the field.

Marshall Faulk returns from a six-week absence due to wrist and knee injuries for tonight's game against the Baltimore Ravens (5-3). He's healthy just in time for an offense that managed only nine yards rushing, the second lowest in franchise history, in last week's 20-point loss at San Francisco.

Faulk is eager to upgrade his early-season numbers.

Entering the game, the 2000 MVP has 116 yards rushing and a 2.8-yard average. Halfway through the season it's a far cry from his seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons and four straight 2,000-yard total yardage seasons from 1998-2001.

"Show me a guy who didn't miss time with injuries and I'm going to commend that guy," Faulk said. "I've had my fair share of ups and downs and it's part of the game for me.

"Can you keep coming back and contributing and being as good as you were before you were injured, or better than that? That's what I try to do."

As for the team's other MVP, quarterback Kurt Warner remains a hero on the sidelines.

Warner, who led the team to Super Bowls in 1999 and 2001, hasn't played since sustaining a mild concussion in the opening loss to the Giants. Last week, coach Mike Martz didn't even consider letting Warner shake off the rust in mop-up time after Marc Bulger led the Rams (5-3) to a single touchdown.

"I don't see that value, no," Martz said, dismissing the topic.

As much as he would like another chance, Warner really didn't, either. He remains the rare deposed starter who is solid in his support for the new first-stringer.

"This was one of those games where it just was a tough situation and a lot of it had nothing to do with Marc," Warner said. "If you make a switch, it's like, what did Marc do wrong?"

Warner knows he has to be patient.

"You've got two ways to go, you can either go up or down,"he said, "and there's no reason to go down."

Without Warner and Faulk, the Rams (5-3) once again have the NFL's No. 1 offense. Torry Holt has 978 yards receiving and is coming off a 200-yard game, and the Rams have made do at running back with undrafted rookie Arlen Harris the last 2 1/2 weeks.

Now, they're getting the 2000 MVP back, good news for a team that came up flat last week and was dominated by the 49ers as its four-game winning streak came to an end.

"Until I see differently, we have to expect the Marshall Faulk we all know, one of the great all-time impact backs," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The Rams, as usual, are throwing the ball magnificently, and to let a Marshall Faulk gouge you is what makes them really potent."

They'll be tested by one of the league's top defenses led by middle linebacker Ray Lewis, a unit that had four sacks and forced three turnovers last week against the Jaguars. The Rams' injury-depleted defense will face the Ravens' pound-it-out style behind Jamal Lewis, who leads the NFL with 1,045 yards rushing and has six 100-yard games.

Billick said most teams crowd eight defenders near the line the entire game, daring rookie quarterback Kyle Boller to throw. The Ravens usually hand it off to Lewis anyway, and have won four of five.

"My line does a great job and I just keep churning," Lewis said. "I am a premier back in the league."

The Rams likely will be without end Leonard Little (pectoral muscle) and tackle Damione Lewis (high ankle sprain) for the second straight game, and they've been allowing 4.6 yards per carry.

"When I look at that number, I'm licking my chops," Lewis said. "I think my line does, too."

Still, in recent weeks St. Louis held the Packers' Ahman Green to 35 yards on 20 carries and the Steelers' Jerome Bettis to 42 yards on 12 attempts.

"The way we played last week, he should be licking his chops," Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "But I think Green was licking his chops when he came in here and I think Bettis was licking his chops, and they left licking their wounds."

The Rams and Ravens are meeting for the first time since 1999, the year the Rams began a three-year run as the NFL's best offense and capped the season with a Super Bowl victory. The next year, the Ravens had the league's top defense and won it all.

"That was a long time ago," Faulk said. "We were at one point in time the best offense and they were the best defense in the NFL, and now we meet here, both teams trying to get ahead."

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