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Everett Is Next Target for the Rams

October 18, 1994|MIKE REILLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, the Rams were 2-5 and quarterback Jim Everett had recently criticized the coaching staff, calling the game plan obsolete as the team prepared for its next game, at San Francisco.

Everett was benched, T.J. Rubley started and the final score read: San Francisco 40, Rams 17.

Now, a year later, Everett has been shipped off to the New Orleans Saints, Rubley is sidelined because of injury, Chris Miller is the starting quarterback and the Rams are 3-4 with hopes of making the playoffs.

And who should be standing between the Rams and the .500 mark but Everett, who goes against his former team Sunday in New Orleans for the first time since the Rams traded him there for a seventh-round draft pick last March.

"We're not going to make this personal at all," cornerback Todd Lyght said of playing against Everett. "We don't care if Archie Manning is quarterbacking or if it's Bobby Hebert. It doesn't matter."

The Rams haven't won four games by the end of October since 1989, when they started 5-0, finished 11-5 and made the NFC championship game with Everett at quarterback.

Although they are two games behind NFC West leader San Francisco, they figure they have legitimate playoff hopes because they have completed the toughest part of their schedule, having already played road games at Atlanta, Green Bay and Kansas City.

"Being 3-4 is always better than 2-5," Coach Chuck Knox said. "We're back in the hunt. There are a lot of 3-4 and 4-3 teams out there."

The Rams are convinced that a 4-4 record would make them at least a wild-card contender, based on a seemingly easy final month of the season with games against New Orleans, at Tampa Bay, at Chicago and Washington.

"I don't know if we've turned the corner but we're where we need to be," tailback Jerome Bettis said. "If we can go into the (bye week) break 4-4, we can say we've turned the corner."

Everett fell out of favor with Knox and his staff last season, and the team traded him shortly after signing Miller to a three-year, $9-million deal.

Everett told some of his former teammates that he would play against the Rams no matter what, even if injured, and he told New Orleans writers earlier this season that he was "looking forward to going against Knox."

Taking a diplomatic route, Everett refused to comment on Knox to New Orleans reporters on Monday, saying only that he was looking forward to the game.

"You want to put your best foot forward when you have a chance to play your friends, your ex-teammates," Everett said.

Knox, also taking the diplomatic route, said, "I haven't thought about it. I know he's a good quarterback."

Everett has resurrected his career somewhat in New Orleans, where he is completing 62.8% of his passes with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. But some of his statistics have been produced in the late stages of blowouts. All five of the Saints' losses this season have been by double figures.

Miller, who has started two fewer games than Everett because of injuries, has completed 50% of his passes with six touchdowns and six interceptions but has played well in the last two games, against Green Bay and New York.

Have the Rams upgraded the quarterback position?

"I like to think we made some improvements," Bettis said. "You never know what Jim could have done if he had stayed here, but you have to say, 'Do you want to make that move in terms of where we're headed?' Jim's a quality quarterback, and he has shown that down there."

The Rams got their fourth victory of last season on Dec. 12, when Rubley started at New Orleans. Bettis rushed for a career-high 212 yards and a touchdown in 28 carries during a 23-20 Ram victory.

"It's going to be hard for me to duplicate that performance," Bettis said. "They're going to be waiting for me."

Bettis will face a Saint defense that ranks 23rd in the league against the run and was beaten for three touchdowns rushing Sunday by San Diego running back Natrone Means. Means became the first back to rush for three touchdowns against the Saints in 179 games. The last to do it was the Rams' Eric Dickerson in a 30-27 victory at Anaheim Stadium in the second game of the 1983 season.

The Ram offense is scoreless in the second half of the last two games and relied on defense and Bettis' running to protect a 17-10 halftime lead against the Giants.

Bettis carried 30 times for 88 yards Sunday, 14 times for 46 yards in the fourth quarter, with two more carries wiped out by penalties. The Rams had the ball for 11 minutes 5 seconds of the fourth quarter.

"Jerome takes a lot of pressure off me and opens up the passing game," Miller said. "But in the second half, sometimes we lean on him a little too much. We say, 'Here you go, Jerome. Here's eight or nine dudes up there, let's see how many yards you can get.' Those are some hard-earned yards."

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