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Rams' Martz out indefinitely

Heart condition has worsened

Mike Martz is out indefinitely as coach of the St. Louis Rams with a bacterial infection of the heart.

Martz was told by a specialist yesterday that his condition, which kept him out of two practices last week, had worsened. The 54-year-old has been ill for more than a month and was tested for endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the lining of the heart or a heart valve.

After the Rams' 37-31 loss Sunday to the Seahawks, Martz said he shouldn't have been on the sideline. St. Louis dropped to 2-3.

Assistant head coach Joe Vitt will take over. Martz told his players during a brief but emotional team meeting that he would step aside, Vitt said.

''The team is his concern," Vitt said. ''His health is our No. 1 concern."

Rams president John Shaw said Martz will be hospitalized 4-12 days but would not speculate on the length of his absence. Shaw said he wasn't told the specific name of the illness, but was led to believe that Martz's heart valve had weakened since last week.

''I think he was concerned he was letting down a lot of people, but also had concern about the gravity of the situation," Shaw said.

The antibiotics that Martz began taking Friday didn't seem to help, Shaw said, but he didn't know if any additional procedures would be necessary. Severe cases of endocarditis can require open-heart surgery.

Martz spoke with a raspy voice after Sunday's game but sounded optimistic about his health. Still, he said that in retrospect, he should have allowed offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild to run the show.

''I wasn't myself this week, the game plan wasn't clear for me," Martz said. ''It's over with now but I just feel what happened to me has affected this team, and that breaks my heart."

Martz was first hospitalized Sept. 30 with what was thought to be a sinus infection. He coached two days later during a 44-24 loss to the Giants.

McAllister tears ACL

Deuce McAllister likely will miss the remainder of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Sunday's blowout loss at Green Bay.

Saints coach Jim Haslett said the running back got a second opinion yesterday in San Antonio. He'll get a third opinion from Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., later this week.

''If that's the case, a torn ligament, he's out for the year," Haslett said. ''I feel bad first of all for Deuce. He's worked hard to get to this point."

McAllister became the leading career rusher for the Saints earlier this season. He's had three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons plus three straight seasons with 30 or more receptions.

He has rushed for 335 yards and a 3.6-yard average this season with three touchdowns.

The loss of McAllister would strike another blow in the Saints' season. They lost the use of their home stadium when Hurricane Katrina damaged the Superdome in Louisiana. That forced them to move their headquarters to San Antonio and some of their home games to the Alamodome.

On Sunday, the Saints suffered the second-worst loss in team history. The 52-3 defeat at Green Bay is surpassed only by a 62-7 loss during the 1973 season to Atlanta.

''I have a lot of confidence in our team," Haslett said. ''We've overcome a lot in the past year and the last couple of months.

Haslett said McAllister's playing time will be split between Aaron Stecker and former Patriot Antowain Smith.

Miami adds Williams

The Dolphins made a substantial offensive upgrade, adding a certified yoga instructor and student of holistic medicine notorious for his shyness and mercurial behavior. Yes, Ricky Williams is back. Returning from a four-week suspension that followed a one-year retirement, Williams took part in yesterday's brief walkthrough. He'll rejoin practice tomorrow and likely play Sunday at Tampa Bay -- his first game since December 2003. Williams has received interview requests this week from about 20 national media outlets, but declined every one, saying he'll wait until after he plays in a game to talk with reporters. Dolphins coach Nick Saban declined to say how much he expects Williams to play Sunday . . . Kelly Holcomb, who quarterbacked Buffalo to victory over Miami, could return to the bench. So says Bills coach Mike Mularkey, who won't say whether Holcomb or J.P. Losman will start this week against the Jets. ''I'm going to leave it as it is," Mularkey said, adding he believes the lack of an announcement will keep the opponent guessing. ''We think it is an advantage as a team, when you have two different types of quarterbacks, to play it out as long as we can." Holcomb, an 11-year journeyman who is more of a pocket passer than Losman, went 20 of 26 for 169 yards in his first start of the season.

Prognosis improves

The Jets got some good news on running back Derrick Blaylock, who is expected to miss only 6-8 weeks with a broken foot instead of the season, as coach Herman Edwards indicated Sunday . . . Packers running back Najeh Davenport underwent season-ending surgery to repair his broken right ankle, and the team placed him on injured reserve. The Packers, who are off this weekend, probably won't fill his roster spot until next week . . . Browns rookie receiver Braylon Edwards, the third pick in April's draft, remained in a hospital, recovering from surgery to eradicate an infection in his right arm that kept him out of a 20-10 win over Chicago and could sideline him longer. The team was awaiting lab results.

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