Work in Sports
Easily the surprise story of the 1999 season, Warner passed for five touchdowns, including four to Isaac Bruce, to lead the unbeaten Rams to a 42-20 rout of the shellshocked 49ers. The five scores tied a club record held by five other players.
With losses by New England and Dallas today, the Rams (4-0) are the NFL's only remaining unbeaten team. St. Louis last started 4-0 in 1995 under former coach Rich Brooks, but finished the year 7-9.
However, this year appears like it will be a different story with Warner at the controls. After throwing for three touchdowns in each of his first three games, Warner effortlessly picked apart the 49ers secondary, completing 20-of-23 passes for 323 yards with one interception.
After watching his team get dissected by Warner, even Niners coach Steve Mariucci admitted, "We've got a ways to go before we beat that team."
That is quite a turn for a Niners team which dominated the Rams throughout the decade.
"Up until now people could point fingers and say we weren't a very good team, but they can't say that now," Warner said. "This is a big one for us. This team will get better and I hope I can get better. We're not stopping after four wins."
The 28-year-old Warner was a virtual unknown before this season, but has quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with. He previously had stints in the Arena League and NFL Europe and became the Rams' starter when Trent Green suffered torn knee ligaments in the preseason. Today, he ended San Francisco's hex over the Rams.
"I've never had this kind of talent before or this kind of quarterback," said Rams coach Dick Vermeil, who coached Philadelphia to the Super Bowl following the 1980 season. "The big thing is when he (Warner) has them open, he hits them. He has tremendous poise, tremendous touch on the ball and he has skilled people."
Warner set an NFL record with 14 touchdown passes in his first four starts. Mark Rypien had 12 in his first four starts with the Washington Redskins in 1988.
San Francisco's streak of 17 wins over the Rams was the second-longest in NFL history, behind Miami's run of 20 consecutive wins over the Buffalo Bills from 1970-79. The Rams had also lost 12 straight home games against the Niners.
"I was happy more for the guys who were in Los Angeles with me and we went through a lot of trying times trying to beat this team," Bruce said. I'm glad it's over."
Warner connected with Bruce on scoring passes of 13, 5 and 45 yards in the first quarter to help the Rams open a 21-3 lead.
Bruce also caught a 42-yard TD in the fourth quarter and finished with five catches for 134 yards. His four TD receptions were a career high and tied a club record held by three others.
Warner also connected with backup tight end Jeff Robinson on a 22-yard scoring play and Tony Horne returned a kickoff return 97 yards for a touchdown.
The 49ers (3-2) again played without quarterback Steve Young, who is still bothered by post-concussion effects. Former CFL star Jeff Garcia, who led the Niners to a win over Tennessee last week, was intercepted three times. He was 22-of-36 for 233 yards.
"It was difficult," said Garcia of facing an early 21-3 deficit.
"We were fighting an uphill battle. It's tough to fight back.
It's not easy to do."
Former Ram Lawrence Phillips scored on a two-yard run for the Niners, but had just nine yards on four carries. Phillips, a first-round pick of the Rams in 1997, was waived by Vermeil last season due to tardiness problems. He was signed by San Francisco during training camp.
The Rams especially picked on starting left cornerback Darnell Walker, who was beaten by Bruce for a 13-yard TD midway through the first quarter to open the scoring. It capped a seven-play, 83-yard drive in which Warner was 5-of-5 for 71 yards.
"If he's (Bruce) one-on-one with someone, I know he will get open," Warner said. "He's so special."
The 5-8 Walker was toasted by rookie Torry Holt on a 49-yard completion down the right sideline to the San Francisco 5 later in the quarter. On the next play, Warner lofted a scoring pass to Bruce in the back of the end zone.
A 38-yard punt return by Phillips and a 21-yard pass by Garcia to Owens helped set up a 42-yard field goal by Wade Richey with 1:34 left in the quarter for San Francisco.
But Horne returned the ensuing kickoff 54 yards to the San Francisco 45. On the next play, Warner connected with Bruce again to cap the 21-point quarter for the Rams. Bruce raced past Mark McMillian down the left sideline, caught the pass at the San Francisco 20 and then juked safety Lance Schulters and waltzed into the end zone.
"I don't know what the reason was, we just didn't get the job done today," Schulters said. "It's all coming down to the secondary. We need to rise up. I'm not taking stuff away from him (Warner) but we didn't get the job done."
The Niners responded with a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive, capped by Phillips' TD. The key play in the drive was a 30-yard pass from Garcia to running back Charlie Garner.
Warner engineered a nine-play, 89-yard drive, aided by a 35-yard pass interference penalty against Walker, in the second quarter.
He capped it with a perfect 22-yard TD pass over the middle to Robinson.
A 43-yard field goal by Richey with 1:42 left in the third quarter pulled the Niners within 28-20, but Horne returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a TD.
"They did a good job blocking," Horne said. "All I did was catch the ball and run."