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Rallying Rams

St. Louis overcomes late deficit to down Bucs 11-6

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Posted: Sunday February 06, 2000 07:03 PM

  Ricky Proehl (87) celebrates his game-winning touchdown with teammate Tom Nutten. AP

ST. LOUIS ( -- Their offense collapsing, their cover blown, the St. Louis Rams looked ready to call it a season.

Then Kurt Warner played like an MVP, getting the Midwest Express attack the one and only touchdown it needed. The unheralded defense did the rest, and the Rams are on the way to the Super Bowl to play the Tennessee Titans.

Warner hit No. 4 wide receiver Ricky Proehl with a 30-yard touchdown pass with 4:44 remaining Sunday to lift St. Louis past Tampa Bay 11-6 for the NFC championship.

"It didn't matter who did it," the quarterback said. "As long as he was wearing a Rams jersey, it didn't matter.

"But when it comes down to making a play, we've made plays all year long. Ricky came through today."

Proehl had six catches for 100 yards. None of those -- or the 33 receptions he made this season, or the 467 of his entire 10-year career -- meant anything close to his leaping grab over backup cornerback Brian Kelly.

"I'm the guy they're always trying to get rid of," he said. "I'm the guy they are always trying to replace. You know, there's 100 Ricky Proehls out there. I beg to differ."

Tennessee, which won the AFC crown in Jacksonville 33-14, handed the Rams their first loss in their seventh game of the season, but opened as 8-point underdogs.

"We know we're in for just as tough a game against the Titans," said Warner, a former Arena Leaguer who got a chance to play this year only because starter Trent Green wrecked his knee in the preseason.

Tampa's gallant defensive effort looked like it would be enough to steal the victory. But quarterback Shaun King made several critical mistakes down the stretch, including an interception at midfield by fellow rookie Dre' Bly that set up the winning drive.

"We brought them into our zone, we brought them into our misery," said Warren Sapp, the Defensive Player of the Year, "and we had them down 6-5 and just kept battling ... and it came down to one play."

Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy said: "It's a very tough feeling, difficult to be that close to a Super Bowl and not get it done."

The Bucs never have gotten it done. Nor have the Rams, whose only Super Bowl appearance came in the 1979 season, when they beat Tampa Bay 9-0 for the NFC championship. Then they fell to the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

And they aren't likely to get it done if their offense can't get out of its own way, even if their defense plays "spectacularly," as coach Dick Vermeil described it.

"I think we showed people we can play every kind of game," said Marshall Faulk, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year who certainly didn't play his kind of game. The record-setting running back was held to a total of 49 yards.

"They wanted to play ball control and take the deep ball away from us. We did the same to them and thought our offense could make more plays than them."

They made one more play, offsetting the gallant defensive effort by the Bucs, who held St. Louis to 309 yards, 91 below its season average. It was Proehl's first TD of the season, and he finished with six catches for 100 yards.

"If you are ever going to bet on someone coming up with a big play, bet on Ricky Proehl," said Vermeil, the NFL Coach of the Year.

After Bly brought his interception to the Tampa Bay 47, the league's highest-scoring offense (526 points during the season, 49 in last week's playoff victory over Minnesota) finally got into the end zone.

But the Rams had to survive a last-ditch march on which they got two of their five sacks on King, who still managed to lead the Bucs to the St. Louis 22.

"We made a couple of plays, but I took a couple of sacks, and that's a no-no at that time," said King, who finished 13-of-29 for 163 yards and two interceptions.

A video review that overturned an 11-yard reception by Bert Emanuel hurt Tampa Bay with 47 seconds remaining. King then threw two incompletions, and the sellout crowd reached supersonic noise levels in the Trans World Dome.

It helped that Tampa Bay was more inept on offense than the usually quick-striking Rams. The Bucs only gained 203 yards.

St. Louis' Grant Wistrom raises his arms to signal a Rams safety in the second quarter of their 11-6 win over the Buccaneers. AP  

"I think we showed the NFL and the world something today," Rams defensive tackle D'Marco Farr said. "The Bucs thought their defense was going to come in here and walk all over us. We held them without a touchdown and proved that we are a pretty good defensive team."

The battle was certainly in the trenches, with the Rams holding the Bucs to Martin Gramatica's two field goals, while they got one field goal, a safety off a poor snap, and Warner's dramatic strike to Proehl.

At the end, as the players gathered around a stage for the trophy presentation, the cheering never abated.

Bly waved a victory towel as he raced around the field, while other Rams simply hugged and reveled in their first trip to the Super Bowl in 20 years, when they played in Los Angeles.

NFC Champions
Year  Result 
1933  Chicago Bears 23, New York 21 
1934  New York 30, Chicago Bears 13 
1935  Detroit 26, New York 7 
1936  Green Bay 21, Boston 6 
1937  Washington 28, Chicago Bears 21 
1938  New York 23, Green Bay 17 
1939  Green Bay 27, New York 0 
1940  Chicago Bears 73, Washington 0 
1941  Chicago Bears 37, New York 9 
1942  Washington 14, Chicago Bears 6 
1943  Chicago 41, Washington 21 
1944  Green Bay 14, New York 7 
1945  Cleveland 15, Washington 14 
1946  Chicago Bears 24, New York 14 
1947  Chicago Cardinals 28, Philadelphia 21 
1948  Philadelphia 7, Chicago Cardinals 0 
1949  Philadelphia 14, Los Angeles 0 
1950  Cleveland 30, Los Angeles 28 
1951  Los Angeles 24, Cleveland 17 
1952  Detroit 17, Cleveland 7 
1953  Detroit 17, Cleveland 16 
1954  Cleveland 56, Detroit 10 
1955  Cleveland 38, Los Angeles 14 
1956  New York 47, Chicago Bears 7 
1957  Detroit 59, Cleveland 14 
1958  Baltimore 23, New York 17, OT 
1959  Baltimore 31, New York 16 
1960  Philadelphia 17, Green Bay 13 
1961  Green Bay 37, New York 0 
1962  Green Bay 16, New York 7 
1963  Chicago 14, New York 10 
1964  Cleveland 27, Baltimore 0 
1965  Green Bay 23, Cleveland 12 
1966  Green Bay 34, Dallas 27 
1967  Green Bay 21, Dallas 17 
1968  Baltimore 34, Cleveland 0 
1969  Minnesota 27, Cleveland 7 
1970  Dallas 17, San Francisco 10 
1971  Dallas 14, San Francisco 3 
1972  Washington 26, Dallas 3 
1973  Minnesota 27, Dallas 10 
1974  Minnesota 14, Los Angeles 10 
1975  Dallas 37, Los Angeles 7 
1976  Minnesota 24, Los Angeles 13 
1977  Dallas 23, Minnesota 6 
1978  Dallas 28, Los Angeles 0 
1979  Los Angeles 9, Tampa Bay 0 
1980  Philadelphia 20, Dallas 7 
1981  San Francisco 28, Dallas 27 
1982  Washington 31, Dallas 17 
1983  Washington 24, San Francisco 21 
1984  San Francisco 23, Chicago 0 
1985  Chicago 24, Los Angeles Rams 0 
1986  N.Y. Giants 17, Washington 0 
1987  Washington 17, Minnesota 10 
1988  San Francisco 28, Chicago 3 
1989  San Francisco 30, Los Angeles Rams 3 
1990  N.Y. Giants 15, San Francisco 13 
1991  Washington 41, Detroit 10 
1992  Dallas 30, San Francisco 20 
1993  Dallas 38, San Francisco 21 
1994  San Francisco 38, Dallas 28 
1995  Dallas 38, Green Bay 27 
1996  Green Bay 30, Carolina 13 
1997  Green Bay 23, San Francisco 10 
1998  Atlanta 30, Minnesota 27, OT 
1999  St. Louis 11, Tampa Bay 6 
Note: This list includes NFL Championship Games from 1933 to 1969.

Yes, the team with the worst record of the 1990s heading into this season will play for the NFL championship next Sunday.

"We know what we are up against," Vermeil said. "We know we have to improve next week."

That's because the powerhouse offense that dominated the NFC this season sputtered in the face of Tampa's speedy, physical defense.

Warner was stymied by the Bucs' zone and heavy pressure. He finished 26-for-43 for 258 yards. He often threw behind receivers, including on a critical interception by Hardy Nickerson at the Tampa 3 in the third quarter.

In all, Warner was picked off three times as the Bucs tamed an attack that romped past nearly everyone else.

"We just never really finished drives to put this game out of reach," Warner said.

Faulk, who set an NFL record with 2,429 yards from scrimmage this season, was held to 44 yards rushing on 17 carries and three catches for 5 yards. A combination of All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks and Faulk's own hesitancy made him look ordinary.

The Bucs' offense was ordinary, as expected. But it was enough to build a late lead as rookie Gramatica kicked field goals on the first series of each half for Tampa Bay, which brought a 132-246-1 all-time record into its second conference title game.

The staunch defenses turned it into a game of punting and turnovers.

Tampa Bay got a takeaway on the first play when defensive end Steve White tipped and intercepted an attempted screen pass. A drop in the end zone by Jacquez Green made the Bucs settle for Gramatica's 25-yard field goal and a surprisingly quick lead.

But that was all they would get in the first half.

King was sacked and fumbled, losing 12 yards, on one Tampa Bay drive. That ruined an opportunity for another field goal. And with 11 seconds to go in the second quarter, his pass from the St. Louis 41 went directly to cornerback Todd Lyght.

St. Louis was more effective moving the ball, but no better at reaching the end zone.

After Gramatica's kick, the Rams put together one of their typical drives, but it yielded only three points. They marched 74 yards in 16 plays and ate up nearly eight minutes before a fumbled exchange between Warner and Faulk made them settle for Jeff Wilkins' 24-yarder to tie it.

Wilkins, kicking with a sore knee, also missed a 44-yarder.

St. Louis had a 159-75 yardage edge through 30 minutes. Yet it led only 5-3, thanks to a high snap by Pro Bowl center Tony Mayberry with King in the shotgun.

But King scrambled back to knock the ball out of the end zone for the safety.

Just as they did to open the game, the Bucs scored on their first possession of the second half. Gramatica nailed a 23-yarder, set up when Green made a 32-yard reception and Taje Allen was hit with a facemask penalty.

The 6-5 lead stood far longer than anyone could have expected. In the end, though, St. Louis found its touch. Just once, but that was enough to send them to Atlanta.

"The stadium there is the Georgia Dome," Vermeil said, looking at Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. "We're taking Georgia to Georgia."

Related information
McNair, Titans beat Jaguars, rush into Super Bowl
Rams' Warner has worst game of season
King's rookie mistakes hamper Bucs' hopes
Buccaneers-Rams Game Summary
Rams coach Dick Vermeil says his team expected to win. (214 K)
Ricky Proehl says the Rams are looking forward to avenging the loss to the Titans in Week 8. (207 K)
Kurt Warner thinks the Bucs defense is a formidable unit. (232 K)
Warren Sapp says the Bucs had plenty of chances to win. (72 K)
Warrick Dunn has no doubt that Bert Emanuel made the catch on the controversial call. (88 K)
Tampa Bay defensive back Brian Kelly says Warner showed why he is the NFL MVP. (46 K)
Warner credits Proehl for making a great play. (96 K)
Sapp feels the Buccaneers defense gave it all they had. (57 K)
Vermeil felt the Rams would make a big play. (107 K)
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