TAMPA, Fla. — In previewing today's struggle for victory No. 5 between the Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ram defensive end Fred Stokes said, "I'm a football fan, and if I wasn't playing, I don't think I'd watch the game."
More than 32,000 fans, however, have already paid $20 to $40 to watch the Rams and Buccaneers, who are bound by poor performances and who are projected to play elsewhere next year with new coaches.
"I'm sure there's not going to be too many people watching, but it still doesn't matter to us," Ram linebacker Shane Conlan said. "We just gotta win some games. We're paid to do a job, and we haven't done it."
The Rams, who have given up 31 points in each of their last three games, have dropped four games in a row, including a lackluster 31-15 loss to New Orleans last week.
Tampa Bay has won two games in a row for the first time since 1992. The Buccaneers can make it three for the first time since 1982.
Although one more defeat assures Tampa Bay of a 12th consecutive season with 10 or more losses, the Buccaneers remain motivated. They are talking about finishing with five consecutive victories, and Coach Sam Wyche is fired up.
"We're practicing as well as any of the teams that are getting themselves ready for postseason play," he said. "You don't see teams practicing this way when they probably aren't going to be in the playoffs."
Ram Coach Chuck Knox has selected Chris Chandler to counterattack such optimism. In confirming what he has denied all season, Knox announced this week that he was picking a ready-to-play Chandler over a ready-to-play Chris Miller to start against Tampa Bay in an effort to "spark" his troops.
"I don't think it supercharges the guys because Chandler is in there," Ram running back Jerome Bettis said. "But I guess we have a tendency to win more games with Chris Chandler in there."
The Rams have won twice with Miller at quarterback and twice with Chandler as their starter.
"Well, Chandler's wins look prettier," Bettis said. "I don't know if quarterback is the problem anyway. It's a team problem. It's really hard to say why they would make a move like that, because I don't see the difference in quarterbacks."
The Rams have changed starting quarterbacks five times this season--mostly because of injuries to Miller and Chandler. Miller was hired to be the team's starting quarterback, but Knox soured on his leadership skills and his penchant for mistakes. Chandler demonstrated an ability to control the ball and guided the Rams to their best victory, a 16-0 showing at Kansas City.
When various media outlets reported that Knox preferred Chandler to Miller earlier this season, Knox strongly objected. Several of his assistant coaches, however, told a different story. Now, a week after Miller's best showing and after announcing that a change "is no reflection on Miller," Chandler takes over.
"Just change for change's sake," Ram offensive line coach Jim Erkenbeck said. "Maybe that's a way to ignite this team. The bottom line is the team hasn't been successful the last four weeks, and the easiest change to make is at quarterback--a change that would have an impact."
Chandler, who has a record of 17-26 as a starter, including an 0-6 mark while with Tampa Bay, has completed 63.6% of his passes with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
"I played well all year," Chandler said.
He will be matched against the NFL's 20th-ranked defense, one that is also second-to-last in the league against the run. The Buccaneers are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for fewest interceptions with eight, and only Denver, with 12, has fewer sacks than Tampa Bay's 17.
On offense, the Buccaneers rank 23rd, having scored 191 points. Only Houston and Arizona have scored fewer. Quarterback Craig Erickson has thrown for 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions, and rookie running back Errict Rhett, who ran 40 times for 192 yards last week, has gained 774 yards in 215 carries.
"We're here to play football, a game we have played since we were little kids," Ram safety Anthony Newman said. "It doesn't matter who is playing quarterback or what is going on. We might be out of the playoff race and out of everything else, but our incentive remains the same since we were little kids playing this game: to win a football game."