Rams deflate Vikings, 49-37

Horne's kickoff return for TD to open 2nd half pumps up St. Louis

January 17, 2000|By THE KANSAS CITY STAR

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams finally ran into some adversity yesterday.

It took only 18 seconds to erase it.

Trailing at halftime for just the second time all season, the fast-break Rams turned to kick returner Tony Horne for the game-breaking touchdown in defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 49-37, in an NFC second-round playoff game.

League MVP Kurt Warner completed 27 of 33 passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns and was 11-for-12 in the third quarter, when the Rams scored 21 unanswered points. St. Louis made it 35 consecutive points with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter before Minnesota responded with three late touchdowns.

The victory propelled St. Louis into Sunday's NFC championship game against Tampa Bay at the raucous TWA Dome.

The cavernous stadium turned silent during an uneasy halftime because the Rams, who jumped to a 14-3 lead on just five offensive plays, trailed 17-14 at the break.

The Rams had trailed for only 4 minutes, 29 seconds -- total -- in eight home games -- all victories -- this season, so no one really knew how to react.

"I told the team, `We've taken their best shots, and now we're going to deliver ours,' " Rams coach Dick Vermeil said.

"I certainly didn't expect Tony Horne to score but I appreciated it."

Horne, the NFL's kickoff-return leader, fielded Mitch Berger's second-half kickoff at his 5, started right, took a step to his left, reached the sideline and before many of the record crowd of 66,194 could return to their seats, Horne regained the lead and was performing the Rams' "Bob and Weave" celebration with his teammates in the end zone.

"We came into the locker room, and everything was quiet," said Horne, a second-year receiver who had returned two kickoffs for touchdowns during the regular season.

"Everybody is looking at you and telling you, `You're going to take this to the house.' Guys just believe in each other.

After Gary Anderson's 31-yard field goal concluded Minnesota's game-opening 60-yard drive, Warner struck immediately.

Isaac Bruce broke free over the middle, and Warner hit him in stride at the 50. Bruce sped untouched on St. Louis' first offensive play for a 77-yard touchdown. On their fifth play, Warner threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Marshall Faulk.

The Rams kept the pressure on defensively, too, getting four first-half sacks. But turnovers temporarily stopped the Rams.

Warner's bomb for Bruce was intercepted by Jimmy Hitchcock at his 4. Minnesota quarterback Jeff George's 41-yard pass on third down to Jake Reed set up Cris Carter beating double coverage for a 22-yard scoring catch.

Dexter McCleon picked off George's poor pass later in the second quarter at the Minnesota 45. But Faulk couldn't grasp Warner's handoff on the next play, with Robert Griffith grabbing the fumble at the 48.

A 31-yarder to Randy Moss set up Leroy Hoard's 4-yard touchdown run. Instead of being blown out early, the Vikings took the lead into the locker room. And they held the ball for nearly 24 minutes.

"We were pretty fired up coming in at halftime up three," George said. "We really believed we were going to win this game. We thought the crowd was out of it at that time, and we felt we had them right where we wanted them."

But Horne's return, the first kickoff return for a touchdown in Rams playoff history, demoralized the Vikings.

"We knew that we were going to have to score a lot of points, and we knew their strength was their offense, and they could put up a lot of points," Warner said. "Looking at it all week, we thought we matched up well against them -- our defense vs. their defense. We knew we were going to have to score some points to win this one."

Indeed, the Vikings ranked 30th in the NFL in pass defense, while the Rams were the top-ranked team in offense and in passing. Warner was so efficient early that of the Rams' first 35 plays, 16 produced first downs.

Playing in his first NFL playoff game, Warner came within a touchdown pass of the NFL record of six in a game, shared by Oakland's Daryle Lamonica in 1969 and Steve Young in Super Bowl XXIX against San Diego in 1995.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Making their points

Most points scored by both teams in an NFL playoff game with teams, score and season:

95: Philadelphia 58, Detroit 37, Dec. 30, 1995

86: St. Louis 49, Minnesota 37, Jan. 16, 2000

79: San Diego 41, Miami 38, OT, Jan. 2, 1982

79: Buffalo 41, Houston 38, OT, Jan. 3,

1993

78: Buffalo 44, Miami 34, Jan. 12, 1991

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