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Rams Believe That Third Time's the Harm : Pro football: They hope to beat Giants today and avoid repeat of last season's three-game losing streak, which left them 2-5.


It might take some imagination, but view today's game against the New York Giants in Anaheim Stadium as the Rams (2-4) do.

Said Jim Erkenbeck, Ram offensive line coach: "The approach Chuck Knox and everybody on this team is taking is that this is like a playoff game. We are overly committed to winning this one."

Added Joe Vitt, Ram assistant head coach: "No question, this game is critical for us. We've talked about it all week long--this is like a playoff game for us."

Said Wayne Sevier, Ram special teams coach: "That's the way we're talking, and I hope the players are listening.

"I'm hoping that I'm right, that this is a good football team that is just not quite getting it done, as opposed to a team that could be 2-5 or 2-6 at the break."

Two more victories before their bye and the Rams would be at .500 for the first time so late in the season since 1989, when they opened 5-3 on their way to an 11-5 finish and a playoff appearance.

Two victories in a row, however, have not been accomplished by this team since 1991, when the Rams defeated Green Bay at home, took a week off for a bye and then beat San Diego at home.

"The last two games were important, but not critical," Erkenbeck said. "This is different."

A loss today to the Giants (3-2), and the Rams will have lost three in a row in dropping to 2-5--as they did a year ago after opening 2-2.

"And even though five losses doesn't keep you out of the playoffs, your team psyche at 2-5 is a whole new deal and then you have to go on the road to play," Sevier said.

The Giants, stung by a loss to Minnesota on Monday night and forced to make the cross-country trek to California, have also lost two games in a row and have never had much success against the Rams. The Rams hold a 21-10 series advantage, including five victories in their last seven meetings.

Knox has a 5-0 record at home against the Giants, but he has never had to play New York with Wayne Gandy and Chuck Belin starting in the offensive line. Jackie Slater is sidelined because of an arm injury and Gandy will make his first NFL start. Center Bern Brostek is on crutches because of a broken bone in his leg, and guard Tom Newberry is now playing center, requiring Belin to make his first NFL start.

"We put that in our calculations of what we want to do," said Chick Harris, Ram offensive coordinator. "But these people know they have to step up, play a hell of a game so there's no drop-off from what we've been getting."

The Rams will try to run against the Giants, who are giving up only 2.9 yards per rush.

"They are very difficult to run against," Knox said. "People have been throwing the ball a lot against the Giants because they gave up trying to run against them."

Teams have also been passing against the Giants because their secondary has played poorly. Before this season, in their last 49 regular-season games the Giants saw only one opposing quarterback--Steve DeBerg--pass for more than 300 yards against them. In five games this year, Randall Cunningham and John Friesz have surpassed that mark, and Warren Moon had 299 yards in Monday night's victory.

The Rams will start Chris Miller at quarterback. He has recovered from a shoulder injury suffered on Sept. 18 against San Francisco. Miller has struggled this season and will be playing to keep his job, with Chris Chandler waiting in the wings to replace him.

"It's time to get things rolling," Miller said. "The ball is in my hands, and I'm going to go out and play some good football and get us some wins."

The Giants will counter at quarterback with Dave Brown, who has thrown five interceptions in the last two games, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Running back Rodney Hampton, who ran 41 times for 134 yards in the Giants' 20-10 victory over the Rams in Giants Stadium last season and who is supposed to take the heat off Brown, has suffered from a kidney injury. Hampton returned last week and ran 13 times for 27 yards.

"We must give Brown more support in the running game," Giant Coach Dan Reeves said. "Our passing is not at the stage now where it can carry us."

The Ram defense, although effective recently, ranks last in the NFL in stopping the opposition on third down. The Giants' offense, meanwhile, has given up an NFC-high 19 sacks, while ranking 27th in the league in first downs and total yards gained per game.

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