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 Seattle Seahawks, Martz said he shouldn't have been on the sideline. St. Louis dropped to 2-3.

Rams President John Shaw said yesterday that Martz will be hospitalized four to 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 on 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.

Assistant head coach Joe Vitt will take over as coach. 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 number one concern."

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 New York Giants.

Endocarditis affects 10,000 to 20,000 Americans each year and in some cases can require open-heart surgery, according to Arthur Labovitz, director of cardiology at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Martz did the right thing by stepping down, Labovitz said. "It's a very serious condition," Labovitz said. "There can be some serious complications that are probably influenced by how you take care of yourself once a diagnosis is made."

* BILLS: Kelly Holcomb, who quarterbacked Buffalo to victory over Miami, could return to the bench next week. So says Bills Coach Mike Mularkey, who indicated he won't say whether Holcomb of J.P. Losman will start this week against the Jets.

"I'm going to leave it as it is," Mularkey said. "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. I think it's an advantage regardless of what other people think."

* SAINTS: New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister likely will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament 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 orthopedist James Andrews in Birmingham later this week.

"I feel bad first of all for Deuce. He's worked hard to get to this point. He's a great football player," Haslett said.

* PACKERS: Running back Najeh Davenport underwent season-ending surgery to repair his broken right ankle and Green Bay placed him on injured reserve.

The Packers, who are off this weekend, probably won't replace him on the roster until next week.