Turned back by Bucs, Warner still finds a way

This time, winning offense is opportunistic, low-octane

NFC notebook

January 24, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- Kurt Warner showed he can handle adversity yesterday.

The former Arena League quarterback burned up the NFL this season as if it were just the Arena League with a longer field.

He threw 41 touchdown passes and ran the third-highest scoring offense in NFL history.

Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC title game, Warner found himself frustrated at every turn.

He ran a 16-play drive and got a field goal. He ran a 12-play drive that ended up with an interception, one of his three for the day.

He didn't get rattled, though, and when his defense gave him good field position in the final period, he threw the 30-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl that gave the Rams an 11-6 victory over the Bucs in the NFC title game.

"We just didn't finish drives," Warner said. "We got some things going and had chances to make scores, to score some touchdowns, to score some more points and we just never finished it. But the way they play defense, it's hard to get the big play on them because they change things up and they've got a great cover scheme," he said.

Warner admitted he was frustrated by the Tampa Bay defense.

"It seemed like everything we did, they knew what to expect. They make teams drive the length of the field on them. I will give them a lot of credit. But we were able to make one more play, the play that made the difference," he said.

Warner bruised his heel in the game, but said it isn't serious.

Vermeil's new outlook

Rams coach Dick Vermeil, noted for crying at his post-game news conferences, came close to breaking down only when he mentioned Proehl.

"Ricky's special," he said as his voice cracked.

This is Vermeil's second trip to the Super Bowl, and he said he's not making the mistake he made when he took the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XV only to get routed by the Oakland Raiders, 27-10.

He said the Eagles treated making the Super Bowl as if it were the accomplishment. Now Vermeil knows the idea is to win it.

"We're not finished yet," he said.

Forcing the issue

Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay's talkative defensive lineman, said that his team forced the Rams to play the Bucs' game.

"We brought them into our zone, we brought them into misery and we had them down 6-5 and just kept battling and battling and it came down to one play. The guy [Proehl] made a great play on the sideline, no doubt about it. But we always felt like we had the capability to shut this offense down.

"It wasn't a matter of this run-and-gun fun and Warner Brothers and all this bull they talk about. We felt like we had the people to go out and get it done and we battled for four quarters," he said.

Injury report

Rams rookie receiver Torry Holt left with bruised ribs in the first quarter after catching three passes for 14 yards on the team's second drive. He returned in the third quarter but left near the end of the period with a bruised right shoulder. Fellow wide-out Az-Zahir Hakim missed the start of the second half because of cramps. Rams offensive tackle Fred Miller sprained his right knee in the fourth quarter but returned.

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