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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Before Week 2, the St. Louis Rams were down two big names — and they didn't have many to begin with.
They plummeted 12 spots to the bottom of NFL Pro32 after a shaky opening loss at home to the Vikings, already judged a bust.
"I think most of the league didn't even realize we had a game yesterday," coach Jeff Fisher joked Monday. "I saw Greg's winning field goal. That was all I saw on the highlights.
"So, that's OK with us."
Turns out, there's plenty of life left.
They are 1-1 and merely one-point underdogs at home against Dallas this week largely because unsung Austin Davis, buried at fourth on the depth chart in late August, stepped up at quarterback. Sure, they miss Sam Bradford and Chris Long, but it's not the end of the world.
Besides knocking off the Bucs 19-17 on Greg Zuerlein's last-minute field goal, combined with a seldom-used rule that shot down Tampa Bay's comeback, they dodged further serious injury. MRIs showed no serious damage for the knee issues of wide receiver Tavon Austin and tight end Cory Harkey, and Fisher said both could play this week.
"They're both as you can imagine, stiff and sore, but it was good news," Fisher said. "We really didn't have anything else."
The Rams also are poised to add depth at wide receiver when the league and players' union finalize drug policy changes tentatively agreed upon last week. Defensive lineman Matt Conrath has been released to clear a spot for Stedman Bailey, among a group of players currently suspended who could return earlier than expected.
"We've been hearing for four or five days that they're going to vote and that everybody will be reinstated, or they have a list of those that should be reinstated," Fisher said. "But I haven't heard anything."
Though it's only one game, Davis' starting debut prompted faint echoes of Kurt Warner's rise from stacking groceries at the Hy-Vee to Super Bowl hero in 1999. Davis broke Brett Favre's records at Southern Mississippi but was out of the league, biding his time as a volunteer assistant coach at a local high school, before Bradford was lost in Week 9 last season.
Davis played well enough that Fisher has a bit of a quarterback controversy on his hands.
Fisher reiterated several times that Shaun Hill would start this week against the Cowboys if he is recovered from a left quadriceps injury, and he thought the 34-year-old veteran might get some practice time perhaps on Thursday.
"I won't visit with you guys tomorrow, but I will Wednesday, Thursday and Friday so you can ask again Wednesday, Thursday and Friday if you want and you'll get the same answer," he said.
No wiggle room, he insisted.
"I'm not sleeping on it," Fisher said. "I got it. I'm proud of Austin and I'm proud of the way the team rallied around him."
Then he left the door a bit ajar. The Rams have a bye after this week, a built-in excuse to stick with the hot hand for at least one more game and give the 34-year-old Hill extra time to recuperate.
"Well, it would be a factor," Fisher said. "Again, this is not coach speak, it's day to day. We're going to see how he is."
Fisher said getting all the practice reps was the difference for Davis in Week 2. In the opener, he wasn't able to rally the offense and had an interception returned for a touchdown.
"I'm especially pleased and proud of the way Austin handled the game," Fisher said. "The way he managed the game, the way he was throwing with timing, extending plays with legs. He was in complete control."
Of course, Davis wasn't the only game-changer.
T.J. McDonald made three huge plays, blocking a field-goal attempt and a punt before finishing with a hit that cost the Bucs a chance of a game-winning field-goal try. Wide receiver Mike Evans was shaken up after a catch at the St. Louis 32 with 8 seconds to go but Tampa Bay was out of timeouts, so the 10-second runoff ended it.
Davis had a chance to make plays because the offensive line kept him upright, allowing just one sack. He was able to manage the game because the line cleared holes for the running game, too.
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