ST. LOUIS (AP) – St. Louis Rams rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was finally declared the starter for Sunday’s game against the Redskins.

“Do you want a drum roll?” interim coach Joe Vitt said Friday. “Yes. I think he gets better every day, he really does.”

Two days away from a likely playoff elimination game between the Rams (5-6) and Washington Redskins (5-6), the status of several teammates remained unclear.

Offensive tackle Orlando Pace is expected to return to the lineup, but he left in the first half of last week’s overtime victory over the Texans with hamstring and hip flexor injuries. Safety Adam Archuleta and offensive lineman Blaine Saipaia are still experiencing symptoms relating to concussions and cornerback Travis Fisher is out for a third straight week with a groin injury.

Fitzpatrick getting the start turned out to be a no-brainer because Jamie Martin, who also sustained a concussion after starting last week in place of injured Marc Bulger, had blurred vision and headaches much of the week and hasn’t practiced.

Martin said the concussion symptoms didn’t clear up until Thursday and said he’d “probably” dress as the backup.

“Yesterday was a lot better and today, I felt fine when I woke up,” Martin said. “They say it takes a few days and then everything is pretty much fine.”

Archuleta, Fisher, Martin and Saipaia were all listed as questionable Friday, with Pace and DeJuan Groce, also recovering from a concussion, probable.

Vitt was coy about his choice of a starting quarterback all week, although Fitzpatrick, a former Harvard star, took all of the reps with the first-string offense. If Martin doesn’t dress, the backup would be twice-released Jeff Smoker.

“It’s not really a surprise,” Fitzpatrick said. “The more reps I get the more comfortable I’m starting to feel with the game plan and the offense.”

The responsibility is growing, too.

“There’s a little more on my shoulder this week because everyone seems to be expecting a little bit more,” Fitzpatrick said. “But I think I’ll be fine.”

The challenge will be to perform against a team that’ll be geared to stop him, the main reason Vitt delayed announcing his decision for so long. Last week’s heroics – 310 yards passing in three quarters to rally the team from a 21-point deficit – came in surprise playing time after Martin’s injury.

“He’s a special guy, now we’ve got to see how he plays after a week’s worth of preparation and somebody getting ready for him,” Vitt said.

AP-ES-12-02-05 1642EST


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