Winless Rams hopeful this is a get-well game

Sunday, September 29, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- For a winless team that was supposed to contend for another Super Bowl, the Rams are holding up remarkably well.

Though they've dug an early hole, they still believe.

"A house divided cannot stand," tight end Ernie Conwell said. "Teams I've been on that have struggled and then continued to struggle, it's been finger-pointing, it's been dissension and bickering and jealousy and envy.

"None of it has happened here, and I don't anticipate it happening."

The Rams are trying to become the first 0-3 team to make the playoffs since the 1998 Buffalo Bills. No, check that. They're aiming much higher.

Quarterback Kurt Warner, who's lost none of his confidence despite throwing seven interceptions with a lone touchdown pass the first three games, wants the Rams to become the first 0-3 team to win the Super Bowl.

"No doubt about it," Warner said. "I know we've got the capabilities of doing it, and we're not too far away."

This could be the get-well week the Rams have been waiting for. After facing three teams that knew how to stack the deck defensively -- the Broncos had an offseason to prepare and the Giants and Bucs always punish them -- the Rams get what appears to be a breather on Sunday with the Cowboys coming to town.

The Rams, who began the last three seasons 6-0, were 12-point favorites to finally crack the win column in Week 4 this year.

The Cowboys (1-2) were embarrassed on opening day by losing to the expansion Houston Texans, and got blown out 44-13 last week at Philadelphia.

"I don't think they're going to go 0-16," Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith said. "They're going to win somewhere along the line. I hope it's not against the Cowboys."

Coach Mike Martz said the key to turning the season around is real simple.

"You've got to stay more focused, you've got to pay more attention to details, you've got to work your butt off, is what you've got to do," Martz said. "And you can't feel sorry for yourself and look around and say what's wrong?

"You've got to tough up and you've got to get better, that's the only way out."

There are two huge wild cards in the equation: Marshall Faulk, who has a strained neck, and All-Pro offensive tackle Orlando Pace, who has a partially torn left calf muscle.

Faulk, who has scored four of the Rams' six touchdowns and in nine consecutive games overall, was listed as questionable but practiced. Pace was wearing a walking cast on Thursday after being injured in practice on Wednesday, and Martz said he is out this week.

The Rams have been in a position to win all three games late. They lost by a touchdown to the Broncos and by five to the Giants, and had a chance to take the lead against the Bucs. But Derrick Brooks took advantage of a busted route by rookie Lamar Gordon and returned an interception for the clinching score in the Bucs' 26-14 victory.

The offense that has been the NFL's best the last three seasons has sputtered. The Rams averaged 31 points last year and are at a 17-point average thus far.

The Cowboys will try to follow the blueprint of the first three Rams opponents and keep the pressure on Warner.

"We can't allow him to get into a rhythm," linebacker Dexter Coakley said. "Anytime you see a guy struggling, that's something we want to take advantage of."

The Cowboys offense has had a lot more trouble behind erratic quarterback Quincy Carter, who'll be making his 12th career start.

"Certainly we have a young team with a young quarterback," coach Dave Campo said. "We knew it was going to take a little time to jell, but that's the NFL."

The biggest ongoing story line for the Cowboys is Smith's pursuit of Walter Payton's career rushing record of 16,726 yards. Smith began his 13th season only 540 yards away and through three games he has 178.

The going could get even tougher this week, with guard Larry Allen nursing an ankle injury.

"I know what the mission is and I don't downplay it and say that it's not important," Smith said. "It is very important. But the most important thing right now is trying to get the team on the winning track."

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