Finally, Rams on losing end

Titans take 3-TD lead, hold off St. Louis, 24-21

November 01, 1999|By ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Perfection never stood a chance, not when faced with the turnovers, penalties and overall sloppy play that, for a half, made it seem as if the players from St. Louis really were the same old Rams.

And their early ineptitude proved impossible to overcome, even though they rallied from 21 points down to make an exciting game of it and showed the talent and heart that has made them the talk of the NFL.

Instead, the Rams fell to the Tennessee Titans, 24-21, yesterday at Adelphia Coliseum in a game that wasn't decided until the league's last undefeated team missed a potential game-tying field goal in the final seconds and the officials sorted out a mess on the field.

"To think that you could have won if you hadn't beaten yourself is tough to swallow," said Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, who was 29-for-46 for 328 yards and three touchdowns, but had two first-quarter fumbles that led directly to Titans touchdowns.

The Rams (6-1) dug themselves a 21-0 first-quarter hole, but they had a chance because the Titans (6-1) couldn't finish them off. St. Louis even had an opportunity to force overtime, but Jeff Wilkins' hurried field-goal attempt from 38 yards barely missed to the right with seven seconds to play.

St. Louis seemed to get a reprieve when referee Bob McElwee signaled a penalty against Tennessee for roughing the kicker. But the Rams' hopes were dashed when the officials consulted and ruled that the Titans' Terry Killens was blocked into Wilkins and there was no penalty.

Even though some of the Rams disagreed with the officials' decision, they knew whom to blame for the loss.

"When you have 15 penalties and three [lost] fumbles, you aren't going to win many football games," Rams coach Dick Vermeil said. "You have a 10 percent chance of winning the football game with three turnovers.

"We didn't give ourselves much of a shot."

For the first half, the Rams didn't have much of a clue, either. They barely moved the ball, couldn't get on the scoreboard and gift-wrapped two scoring opportunities for the Titans, who had two first-quarter drives for touchdowns that totaled three plays, 43 yards and 32 seconds.

Titans quarterback Steve McNair, who returned from a back injury after missing five games, threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score in the first half. The closest the Rams got to scoring in the first two quarters was Wilkins' field-goal attempt from 54 yards, but it fell woefully short eight seconds before halftime.

"We went into halftime with a sense of confidence," Titans wide receiver Yancey Thigpen said. "We went in at halftime knowing that we had control of the ballgame."

Said Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce: "We did absolutely nothing in the first half."

But their second play of the second half was a sweet touch pass from Warner to running back Marshall Faulk, who turned the play into a 57-yard touchdown. And the Rams made it 21-14 after Warner hit Bruce with a 3-yard scoring strike midway through the third.

Tennessee increased its lead to 24-14 the next time down the field on Al Del Greco's 27-yard field goal, but the Rams weren't done. In the fourth quarter, they drove 80 yards on 11 plays, and Warner hit Amp Lee for a 15-yard touchdown pass. But they took their time in doing it -- only 2: 14 remained in the game and the Rams were out of timeouts.

St. Louis caught a huge break when Lorenzo Styles recovered Wilkins' onside kick, and the Rams took over at their 42. Warner got them to the Tennessee 20-yard line on a 4-yard pass to Ricky Proehl with 22 seconds left, but it was fourth down and the Rams couldn't stop the clock. Wilkins rushed onto the field and the snap and hold were clean, but his kick drifted a little to the right.

"It's just a matter of those guys busting their butts and me blowing it for them like that," Wilkins said.

His teammates, however, disagreed.

"We gave it away early," Warner said. "We gave it away."

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