St. Louis overcomes late deficit to down Bucs 11-6
Posted: Sunday February 06, 2000 07:03 PM
Ricky Proehl (87) celebrates his game-winning touchdown with teammate Tom Nutten. AP
ST. LOUIS (CNNSI.com) -- 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.
| || |
|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."
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