NFC Championship Notebook
After two-game drought, Bruce pivotal in St. Louis winPosted: Sunday January 27, 2002 10:21 PM
Bruce was injured early in the first quarter of the season finale against the Atlanta Falcons, finishing the game with just one catch. In the Rams' 45-17 playoff win over the Green Bay Packers last week, Bruce caught just one pass for 19 yards.
But in Sunday's 29-24 NFC Championship Game win against the Philadelphia Eagles, Bruce caught eight passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Bruce is aware that with the Rams having so many weapons, there will be games the ball won't come his way. Against Green Bay, Bruce was open on several occasions, but Packers linemen batted down the ball at the line of scrimmage.
"I didn't get frustrated by it, because I knew I could get open and make plays," said Bruce, one of six Rams named to the Pro Bowl team. "I'm always available."
Vincent less than 100 percent
Eagles Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent started despite a strained groin that kept him out of practice until Friday. Vincent played a little more off the receiver than he usually does, and the Rams seemed to be looking his way early in the game.
Vincent went to the bench after the third quarter and didn't return.
"I wasn't being effective," Vincent said. "I did the most I could for three quarters and did some good things, but it was time for fresh legs."
The Eagles, who rely on the blitz to pressure the quarterback, didn't go after Kurt Warner as often as they probably would have if Vincent was healthy. The result was just one sack, by end Derrick Burgess.
McNabb not sure the best team won
Donovan McNabb isn't so sure the St. Louis Rams are the better team, even though they are heading to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.
"They scored more points," McNabb said. "That's not to say they're the better team because I can't say that."
The Eagles had the ball 55 yards away from taking the lead in the final two minutes, but McNabb was intercepted by Aeneas Williams on fourth-and-7.
"We'll be back," McNabb said.
Jones has happy ending after nearly walking away
Offensive lineman Rod Jones was teary-eyed as he glanced around the rocking Edward Jones Dome following the game.
First, offensive line coach Jim Hanifan grabbed him and hugged him. Then Jackie Slater, who spent two decades playing right tackle for the Rams and is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, threw his arms around him and whispered in his ear.
"I told him I was very proud of him," Slater said.
And why not? Jones, a free-agent pickup after he wasn't re-signed by the Cincinnati Bengals in the offseason, left the Rams early in training camp, intending to quit. Head coach Mike Martz talked him back.
On Sunday, Jones started in place of the injured Ryan Tucker at right tackle, moved to left tackle for several plays when Orlando Pace sprained his knee in the first quarter, then moved back to the right side when Pace returned later in the game.
Despite all the switching, Jones didn't give up a sack and helped open some of the holes that allowed Marshall Faulk to run for 159 yards.
Jones said he might not have been in football if Martz hadn't showed confidence in him and allowed about a monthlong sabbatical from training camp in Macomb, Ill.
"I was burned out," said Jones, who said he took it hard when the Bengals let him go. "I was just burned out spiritually and psychologically. Coach Martz said, 'I'm not going to let you go.' This is payback. They had enough confidence in me to keep me around."
Keeping it clean
With Kurt Warner banged up with bruised ribs and an assortment of other injuries, much speculation during the week was on whether the Eagles would do anything special to get to the quarterback.
That speculation was heightened after Philadelphia defensive end Hugh Douglas was fined midweek for two hits on quarterbacks Brad Johnson of Tampa Bay and Jim Miller of Chicago in previous playoff games.
A banner hanging high in the dome read: "Hey Philly: Take Your Best [Cheap] Shot."
But the game was clean. There were no roughing penalties, very little barking between plays. Twice Warner ran from the pocket into the open field for short gains. Both times, Philadelphia defenders passed up opportunities to whack him with hits that, while they would have likely drawn penalties, might have knocked the two-time NFL MVP from the game.
"There weren't any hits after the whistle or anything like that," tackle Orlando Pace said. "It was a pretty clean bout."