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Rams Put Aside Party Hats and Don Helmets : Week in New Orleans Is Just What Team Needed Before Taking On Saints

November 09, 1986|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — The Rams have put their party hats away, declared the week's rest in New Orleans a complete (burp) success and are now ready to push aside the blackened redfish and dig into the Saints today at the Superdome.

It's been quite a week for the Rams, beginning Monday night with a last-second 20-17 win over the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears.

That triggered a weeklong celebration/practice in a city that's as spicy as its entrees.

Yes, some Rams had their fun on Bourbon Street, running loose without curfew until Friday night. And you might want to ask nose tackle Shawn Miller how many oysters he downed at a cajun dinner for the Rams Thursday night at the team's hotel.

Did he say 15 or 20?

Of course, the bottom line is what the Rams do today against the improving Saints, but Coach/concierge John Robinson is convinced this was the way to handle his team.

"We gained a great benefit from this," Robinson said after Friday's practice at the Superdome. "How'd you like to be climbing in a plane right now?"

Of course, that's what the Rams would have been doing in California Friday had they returned home from Chicago earlier in the week.

But while the Saints have long been the appetizer on any team's NFL schedule, this year's group under new Coach Jim Mora, has won three of its last four games, including a 23-10 decision over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday at the Superdome.

Following the trend in the NFC, the Saints are starting to play like the Rams, combining a strong run offense with a mistake-free defense.

"It's going to be a trend all over the country," Robinson said, smiling.

The Saints just don't play it as well as the Rams right now. Running back Rueben Mayes, though he leads the NFC with a 5.4-yards-a-game average, cannot yet match steps with the Rams' Eric Dickerson, who is running away with the NFL rushing yardage title.

And no one right now can compare with the Ram defense, which ranks first in the NFL.

"On paper, these two teams look pretty equal," Saint quarterback Dave Wilson said. "But when you match records, well, the Rams have proven they can win. The biggest difference is that they've been in their system for four years and winning in that system. We're all new to this system and are just now coming into our own."

Wilson is to the Saints what Steve Dils has been to the Rams--a quarterback who promises not to mess things up for the other guys.

Wilson took over after starter Bobby Hebert broke his foot in the third game of the season. In his last four starts, Wilson has completed 58% of his passes for 724 yards.

The Saints returned Hebert to the active roster Saturday, but he is not expected to play today.

Dils will be making his fourth start. He replaced an ailing Steve Bartkowski two weeks ago and has helped the Rams score key wins over division rival Atlanta and Chicago.

Bartkowski is ready again, but the job now appears to belong to Dils.

Dils completed just 6 of 25 passes for 137 yards against the Bears, but he did enough things right to impress Robinson.

"John said to me that if I completed 40% of my passes and have a big play we'd have a chance to win the game," Dils said.

Well, Dils did get the big play, a 65-yard touchdown pass to Ron Brown in the third quarter.

"I would have liked to have hit the 40%," Dils said.

Dils also was impressive on the Rams' winning drive, shunning the plays from the sideline and creating two new pass plays not in the playbook. Luckily for Dils, both worked and helped set up Mike Lansford's game-winning 50-yard field goal.

Dils, in fact, might be the perfect Ram quarterback these days. He's a low-key, easygoing guy who knows that the star of his offense wears uniform No. 29.

"I don't have expectations," Dils said. "There's not a ton of pressure on me to be the savior. I could have been traded in the off-season or still be second string. Everthing now is a bonus."

Dils, who has spent most of his eight-year career as a backup, doesn't worry each week about being the starter.

"If you start expecting things, very soon there's a chance that you'll be disappointed," Dils said. "I feel comfortable in my position. I've earned some respect."

Ram Notes

Former L.A. Express running back Mel Gray is returning kicks for the Saints and leads the NFL with a 30.7-yard average. . . . Injuries: Ram tight end Tony Hunter will most likely miss the game with a shin injury. Outside linebacker Mike Wilcher's strained right knee might keep him out of the starting lineup, though Coach John Robinson said he would play some. Safety Nolan Cromwell (hamstring) is listed as questionable. . . . The Saints recently re-signed defensive back Bobby Johnson, brother of Ram safety Johnnie Johnson. . . . The Saints beat the Rams, 29-3, last year at the Superdome. "That kind of game matures you," Robinson said. "You say, 'Holy cow, look what can happen to us.' " . . . The Rams have scored fewer points (164) than any team in the NFC West. They've also given up the fewest (144).

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