Up-and-down season now up

Updated: December 10, 2003, 1:33 PM ET
ESPN.com

The Patriots, Eagles and Rams are arguably the three hottest teams in the NFL. Starting in Week 4, the three have combined for an amazing 28-3 record.

But things weren't always so positive. With injuries to key starters, questions about starting quarterbacks and much more, all three teams stumbled to start the season and seemed headed towards disaster.

With that in mind, here's a look at what people were saying about the Rams early in the season and what they're saying now. Also, check out what people were saying about the Eagles and Patriots.

Then and now -- St. Louis Rams
Then

  • Sept. 7 -- Rams lose season opener 23-13 to the Giants. Kurt Warner is sacked six times in the game and also fumbles six times. After the game it is revealed that "Warner suffered a concussion in the first half but continued to play.
    -- There is never anything good about a season opener that ends with team doctors holding news conferences in the bowels of Giants Stadium.

    There is never anything good about a season opener that ends with the starting quarterback lying in the training room with his head in a concussed fog. There is never anything good about an idling ambulance waiting in the wings to whisk the quarterback away to a hospital, or an anxious wife standing outside the locker room wondering what's going on behind those closed doors.

    But that was exactly how the Rams' 23-13 season-opening loss to the New York Giants ended here Sunday afternoon. It was an unsettling scene that included reporters buzzing around the cramped visitors' locker room waiting for Warner to emerge from the training room. You could see him at first sitting up on the table, holding his head, then rolling over on his back, then on his side. He was nauseated. He was dizzy. He was confused. His head was throbbing.

    None of this was any good.

    And now, more than an hour after the game, head coach Mike Martz was being pulled back off the team bus, forced to explain to a skeptical mob of minicams, microphones and notepads exactly what he knew about Warner's concussion and when he knew it.

    It is starting all over again, isn't it?

    Are we locked in some twisted "Groundhog Day" comic nightmare, where history just keeps repeating itself, and the Rams can not escape from all these recurring mishaps of last season?

    Is it starting all over again?

    Will Warner miss next week's game with San Francisco, leaving the door open for last year's hero, Marc Bulger, to step in and lead the Rams to victory? And will that potential victory prompt another quiet storm where a football-crazed city will start comparing and contrasting the two QBs all over again? Was Sunday's loss to the Giants just like last year's season-opening loss to Denver, a sputtering, mistake-riddled offensive performance that served as a harbinger of a season on the brink?

    Take a long look and tell me what you see.

    I saw way too many mistakes out there. Drive-killing fumbles. Receivers slipping to the ground at inopportune times. A curious offensive game plan that had too many passes (54) and not nearly enough runs (Marshall Faulk had only nine carries for a measly 28 yards). I saw a team that looked way too much like last year's outfit that always seemed to do just enough bad things to lose games they should have won...."
    -- Bryan Burwell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  • Sept. 15 -- Mike Martz names Marc Bulger his starter for St. Louis' Week 3 game in Seattle.
    -- "Kurt Warner's two MVP awards were of no use to him Monday: Marc Bulger was named starting quarterback of the St. Louis Rams.

    Coach Mike Martz made his choice a day after Bulger's strong play in the second half of the Rams' 27-24 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

    Martz emphasized his decision wasn't necessarily for the long term.

    'Marc Bulger will be our quarterback this week,' Martz said. 'Where that goes, who knows? How long that is, let's not worry about it.'

    Martz's decision apparently had nothing to do with Warner's health.

    Warner sustained a concussion in the first half of the opening 23-13 loss to the Giants, but has not missed any practice and ran the scout team last week.

    'What I based this decision on was a lot of things, and those are things I'll keep to myself,' Martz said. 'I think it's better left that way.'

    Instead, Martz said he made the decision in the 'best interests' of the team. The overriding factor: Bulger moved the team."
    -- Associated Press

  • Sept. 29 -- The day after the Rams' Week 4 win over the Cardinals, Brenda Warner, the wife of Kurt Warner, sounded off on a St. Louis radio station about her husband losing his starting job.
    -- "The wife of benched St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner sounded off again Monday, saying in a radio interview that a trade would be welcomed after the season if the situation stayed the same.

    Last season, Brenda Warner called a radio show to complain that she -- and not coach Mike Martz -- had suggested that the two-time MVP have his injured hand X-rayed. The X-ray revealed a broken hand that Warner had been playing with.

    On Monday, Brenda Warner told "Steve and D.C." on The Mall that her husband wouldn't mind changing teams.

    "Probably, just from the point that we want to play, he wants to play, plain and simple," Brenda Warner said. "So, if he's not going to play here, then he wants to play somewhere.

    "You just want to be wanted, like anybody, whether you're a D.J. or whatever you do."

    Marc Bulger has started ahead of Warner the last two weeks, although Martz said at the time of the change that it wasn't necessarily permanent. Brenda Warner reiterated that a new city would be fine if her husband doesn't get his starting job back.

    'So you know what?' Brenda Warner said. 'We're open for anything. We've always said we trust God in everything that happens for us. This is one of the things that we've got, again, to put our trust in Him and know that He'll take care of us.'"
    -- Associated Press

  • Nov. 10 -- The Rams beat the Ravens 33-22 in Week 10 to improve to 7-3. Despite the win, Marc Bulger struggled, throwing two INTs for the second straight week
    -- "Marc Bulger was so off-target with his passes that St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz almost yanked him.

    'Marc slugged it out pretty good,' Martz said. 'It did cross my mind, but Marc needs to go through this. They all go through that, and Marc's no different from anybody else.'"
    -- Associated Press

  • ... And Now

  • Dec. 9 -- Two days after the Rams beat the Browns 26-20 to improve to 10-3 and clinch a playoff spot.
    -- "The Rams walked into sub-freezing temperatures and a biting wind that swirled off Lake Erie. They were welcomed by a full house that included adult men wearing dog costumes, thousands of excited fans, and NBA rookie phenom LeBron James.

    It was a full-moon night and the evening was fraught with bad-moon rising danger for the Rams. Cleveland was so cranked up, it staged a fake Super Bowl party. Because that's all you can do when the team is a bad and undisciplined 4-8 and has nothing else to play for and the season has gone to the real dogs.

    But despite all of the irrational concerns about cold weather among Rams fans and reporters -- it was as if we expected this team to be paralyzed by frostbite once it left the cozy confines of the Edward Jones Dome -- the Rams held up. Barely, of course. But they did prevail over Jack Frost. There hasn't been this much hysteria over a weather forecast since, well, the last time St. Louis television meteorologists (as usual) predicted the end of the world as we know it because a few snowflakes were in the forecast.

    Surprise: The Rams did not shiver, they did not wear mittens, they did not cry for mommy, they did not have icicles growing from their noses, they did not send out for hot chocolate and they did not spend a frigid Monday evening desperately hugging the sideline heaters. ...

    Rams fans will (understandably) identify all of the flaws and air them out. But there is a special quality to these Rams. It is the toughest Rams team we've seen during their era of playoff football. They fall and rise. They make enough plays when it matters most. It all adds up to 10-3.

    And here's the latest weather forecast: a bitterly cold January, with the Rams in the playoffs."
    -- Bernie Miklasz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    -- "The final chapters of this unpredictable Rams season have yet to be written. But this much is certain after Monday's 26-20 victory over the Cleveland Browns: The Rams will be playing in January.

    The Rams clinched their fourth playoff berth in the past five seasons with Monday's triumph. At 10-3, they have won five in a row and nine of their past 10, keeping pace with Philadelphia in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs. They can clinch their third NFC West title next Sunday in St. Louis with a victory over division rival Seattle (8-5). ...

    None of which seemed possible back on Sept. 21, when the Rams fell to 1-2 after blowing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter in a 24-23 loss to the Seahawks. At the time, the Rams were in the midst of a quarterback controversy and had just lost running back Marshall Faulk for five weeks with a broken hand (and a knee problem).

    Beginning the following week against Arizona, they would suffer a string of defensive injuries that would keep them without all 11 starters for the next seven weeks. But the Rams persevered and began piling up the victories.

    And as of Monday, they have qualified for Paul Tagliabue's Super Bowl tournament. It wasn't always easy or pretty on a chilly Monday night on the shores of Lake Erie. The offense sputtered early, particularly in the red zone and on third down."
    -- Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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