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Ram Woes Come to a Head

Quarterback Warner spends night at Cornell Medical Center because of a concussion after fumbling six times and being sacked six times in St. Louis' 23-13 loss to the New York Giants.

September 08, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner, who fumbled six times and was sacked six times Sunday in a 23-13 loss to the New York Giants, showered and dressed after the debacle but didn't emerge from the Ram locker room with his teammates. He lay on a stretcher in the trainer's room with a severe headache and nausea.

More than an hour after the game, the Rams announced their star quarterback suffered a mild to moderate concussion -- apparently early in the first quarter -- and would be staying overnight to undergo tests at Cornell Medical Center. The Rams reported late Sunday that a CT scan and X-ray of his neck and head were negative and he was feeling better.

"I guess on that first sack he got whacked on the head pretty good," said Coach Mike Martz, whose team doctor gave Warner the OK to play after examining him at halftime. "We couldn't figure out why he was having such a hard time getting plays in.... Kurt's a competitor. But he just wasn't himself. He looked confused when you gave him a play. I shouldn't have played him. I regret playing him."

The Giants gave Warner problems almost from the start, prying the ball loose from him with a sack on the first play of the Rams' second possession, then doing so again six minutes later in the end zone for a fumble-recovery touchdown by defensive end Kenny Holmes.

"To score the first touchdown on the year is big, but to do it the way we did it today was great," said Holmes, who recovered another Warner fumble at the beginning of the second quarter. "William [Joseph, a rookie defensive tackle] had the guy wrapped up, and I came around the ball and the ball was there, and it's in the ink now."

At first, Martz said the concussion probably occurred on the first sack. Later, the coach inexplicably changed his opinion and said it probably happened on the sack that led to a touchdown. But there was no apparent blow to Warner's head on the latter sack.

Warner, a two-time NFL most valuable player, was 0-6 as a starter last season, when he suffered three breaks in the pinkie of his throwing hand, and has not won since St. Louis beat Philadelphia in the NFC championship game Jan. 27, 2002. Counting the Super Bowl, the Rams have lost eight consecutive games with Warner starting.

Martz said he never considered inserting backup Marc Bulger when Warner struggled against the Giants. He didn't address which player he plans to start Sunday in the home opener against San Francisco, although the Ram team physician, Bernard Garfinkel, said he expects Warner will be able to play.

Even Bulger, who was 5-1 as a starter last season, would have had trouble putting a dent in the Giant defense, which kept the Rams out of the end zone for three quarters and did a masterful job of shutting down running back Marshall Faulk, who had 28 yards in nine carries.

"They outplayed us," said Faulk, still seething long after the game. "They did everything right, and we did everything wrong. That combination of mistakes will get you beat. You saw that today."

The Rams weren't out of contention until failing on two fourth-down conversion tries late in the fourth quarter when they trailed by 10 points. First, Faulk was stopped a yard short on a catch and carry on fourth and 12 from the Giant 30 with 5 minutes 29 seconds to play. Next, on fourth and eight at the Giant 24 with 2:26 remaining, Warner's pass for rookie Shaun McDonald was tipped at the line and fell incomplete.

Martz, who has made questionable clock-management decisions in the past, did so again by going for it on fourth and 12 instead of sending in kicker Jeff Wilkins for a field-goal attempt of about 47 yards. Had Wilkins made that kick, the Rams would have been within a touchdown of tying the score.

"We were running out of time and I just felt it was the right thing to do," Martz said. "We didn't have any timeouts, so you have to give it a shot if you can."

The Rams, a shadow of the powerhouse they were when they made Super Bowl trips in 1999 and 2001, ventured inside the Giant 40 six times and came away with two field goals and a touchdown. Then again, the Giants had a lot to do with that.

"We're just aggressive, watching passes, waiting to see what they were going to do," defensive end Michael Strahan said. "We were just bent on not letting Kurt Warner sit in the pocket. Because if you do, he'll kill you."

Warner's six fumbles -- the Rams lost three of them -- are one fewer than the NFL record of seven by the Kansas City Chiefs' Len Dawson in a 1964 game against the San Diego Chargers.

Meanwhile, New York's offense was sporadically effective. Kerry Collins threw for 202 yards, a huge chunk of which came on a 77-yard reception by Amani Toomer. Tiki Barber had 146 yards in 24 carries, coming alive in the second half with 113 yards.

"We were able to hit [Barber] early, not only one guy but two or three," safety Aeneas Williams said. "By the second half, it turned into one on one."

It's the Rams' offensive concerns that top their list, and specifically the health of Warner. According to Martz, this is the second concussion Warner has suffered in his St. Louis career, the first coming in the 2000 season finale at New Orleans.

Nothing looked out of the ordinary with Warner in the minutes after the game. He wore a towel as he emerged from the shower area and politely excused himself while walking past reporters to his locker cubicle. Later, after he dressed, he sat on a stool and rested his forehead on his hand. Media relations officials told reporters he would speak to them within minutes in a meeting room next door.

More than an hour passed, and an ambulance discreetly backed up to a side door to the visitors' locker room. Someone, probably Warner, was loaded inside. The driver turned on the flashing lights but no siren, and headed into the mild summer evening.

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