Defending their crown
Champs sneak into playoff with Lions' loss to Bears
Updated: Monday December 25, 2000 12:27 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The St. Louis Rams squeaked into the playoffs on a rookie's 54-yard field goal more than 1,000 miles away.
That didn't keep at least some of Rams from considering the team the favorite to win the NFL title again.
"The Super Bowl goes through St. Louis."
With the Rams' victory and Edinger's kick, St. Louis got a chance to defend its championship and the Lions were sent home. But St. Louis might have to begin the playoffs here next Saturday without quarterback Kurt Warner, who was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with a concussion.
The Rams (10-6) showed on Sunday what it hadn't all year -- defense to go with their record-setting offense.
The record this week was set by Marshall Faulk, who scored three touchdowns to reach 26 for the season and ran for a career-high 220 yards. Emmitt Smith scored 25 touchdowns for Dallas in 1995.
St. Louis, the sixth-seeded NFC playoff team, returns next week to face third-seeded New Orleans, which also finished 10-6 but won the West because they were 7-1 in the division to 5-3 for the Rams.
Lyle might be right about his team being the favorite if the defense plays as it did Sunday.
The defense allowed 450 points in the first 15 games, an average of 30. But it held the Saints to 134 yards and no offensive touchdowns in three quarters.
Still, they realized afterward that their fate was really decided by a rookie kicker who rocketed the ball over the crossbar at the Pontiac Silverdome.
"The whole Chicago Bears organization can come to my house for dinner tonight," defensive tackle D'Marco Farr said. "I'll put Edinger, the kicker, at the head of the table."
The Rams, who lost 31-24 earlier in the season in St. Louis, controlled this game from the start, although the Saints tied it in the second quarter on a 41-yard interception return by linebacker Darrin Smith.
Even when Warner went out with a concussion, Trent Green continued to move the Rams, particularly with Faulk on his game.
"It usually takes me three or four carries to find out if it's your time," said Faulk, who touched the ball just 10 times in the first meeting with the Saints. "I knew today would be my day. When Kurt went out, the offensive line and I knew we would have to carry the team."
After replacing Warner, Green led the Rams on a 73-yard drive capped by Faulk's record-tying second TD, a 9-yard run, to make it 19-7. Faulk scored his first TD on a 13-yard pass from Warner in the first quarter.
The Saints finally came alive in the final quarter, twice cutting the lead to five points, once on a 28-yard pass from Aaron Brooks to Willie Jackson. Faulk's third TD made it 26-14, but the Saints came right back on a 22-yard TD pass from Brooks to Joe Horn.
Faulk, however, sealed the game with a 39-yard run after the Saints had taken their final timeout.
New Orleans, which has lost eight starters to injury this season, held up as best it could.
Brooks, in just his fifth start, had the worst game of his career, finishing 16-of-31 for 208 yards and the two touchdowns. But both scores and most of the yards came when the Rams were in a semi-prevent defense.
"The offense has to execute," Brooks said. "We didn't do that until the fourth quarter. We kept our defense on the field too long, we didn't convert when we had to and it hurt us."
Now it's on to next week and the third meeting between the teams -- players and coaches on both teams already are talking about how hard it is to beat a team twice in a season.
One factor will be Warner, who was taken to the hospital after the game with what was described as a moderate concussion. He missed five games earlier this season and the Rams went 2-3 with Green at quarterback.
"This is the best team in the NFC," Saints head coach Jim Haslett said of the Rams. "You are going to have to get by this team to go anywhere you want to go. I guess you are getting just what you want."
Notes: La'Roi Glover's third-quarter sack gave him 17 for the year, and tied him for the Saints' single-season record set by Pat Swilling in 1991. The Saints had six sacks against the Rams in the first meeting of the season, but only three Sunday. ... St. Louis' 474 yards gave it 7,075 for the season and broke the record for most yards in a season. The old mark was set by the 1984 Dolphins (6,936 yards). ... Isaac Bruce hasn't had a 100-yard receiving game in eight weeks.