Rams hang on -- by 1 yard

Rallying Titans fall short on last play after Bruce TD catch, 23-16

Warner throws for 414

Down 16-0, Tenn. ties it, then goes 89 of 90 yards

Super Bowl Xxxiv

January 31, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- A magical season that featured record-setting offense came down to one last touchdown strike and one huge defensive play for the St. Louis Rams last night.

Quarterback Kurt Warner made the first, linebacker Mike Jones the second, and the Rams escaped Super Bowl XXXIV with a dramatic 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in front of a raucous crowd of 72,625.

Warner validated his MVP regular season with an MVP performance in the Georgia Dome, throwing for a Super Bowl-record 414 yards and two touchdowns. It was his 73-yard touchdown pass-and-run to wide receiver Isaac Bruce that broke a 16-16 tie with 1: 54 to play and proved the game-winner.

But it was left to the Rams' defense to preserve the lead, and it did, if only by a yard.

Tennessee got the ball on its own 10 with 1: 48 on the clock and one timeout left. Quarterback Steve McNair ran and passed the Titans into scoring position and a shot at overtime.

McNair's most improbable plays on a night of remarkable escapes came on third-and-five at the St. Louis' 27. Scrambling in the pocket to give his receivers more time, he was nearly sacked by Jay Williams and Kevin Carter.

But McNair avoided the sack and fired a 16-yard pass to Kevin Dyson to reach the Rams' 10 with five seconds left.

After using their final timeout, McNair lined up in the shotgun and threw to Dyson on a quick slant pattern. Dyson had the end zone in sight when Jones wrestled him to the ground by the legs. Ball outstretched, Dyson's forward progress was smothered at the 1.

"They gave us all we could handle," said Bruce, who had six catches worth 162 yards. "I think this defined us as a great team. It was a team effort -- we needed everybody."

The Rams completed their miraculous turnaround from a 4-12, last-place finisher to Super Bowl champion with a performance that threatened blowout early and nearly blew up late.

They drove to the red zone on all five first-half possessions, but came away with only three field goals and a 9-0 lead. Jeff Wilkins hit field goals of 27, 29 and 28 yards, but missed a 34-yarder and holder Mike Horan dropped the snap on a 35-yard attempt.

Still, Warner threw a Super Bowl-record 35 passes in the first half for 277 yards. The team's red zone futility was evident in his passing numbers inside the Tennessee 20: he was 1-for-13 for 6 yards.

The Rams rolled up 294 total yards in the first half to 89 for the Titans. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz called for passing plays on 19 of the team's 22 first-down plays in the first half.

St. Louis (16-3) finally got in the end zone in the third quarter when Warner hit Bruce for a 31-yard pass and Ernie Conwell for 16 yards to the 10.

On third-and-goal, he hit rookie wide receiver Torry Holt for a 9-yard touchdown pass that made it a 16-0 game.

The Titans (16-4) lost strong safety Blaine Bishop, their defensive leader, in the series to a sprained neck when he helped tackle Conwell. Taken to the hospital for X-rays that were negative, Bishop rejoined the team in the dome after the game.

With a 16-0 lead, the Rams' offense went to sleep and the Titans, wild-cards in the AFC, roared back.

George, who finished with 95 yards rushing, scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 2 yards to get Tennessee within 16-13.

As he had done throughout the postseason, McNair ignited the Titans' offense with his improvisational ability in the pocket. He hit 22 of 36 passes for 214 yards, and rushed for 64 more -- a Super Bowl rushing record for a quarterback.

He completed nine consecutive passes in the comeback, but overthrew a third-down pass from the St. Louis 25 on a drive that could've produced the go-ahead touchdown. Instead, the Titans settled for Al Del Greco's 43-yard field goals with 2: 12 to play.

The Titans not only erased their deficit, but had stolen the game's momentum from the Rams as well. It did not last long, however.

On the first play after the kickoff, Bruce ran a go-route down the right sideline. When Warner slightly underthrew the ball, Bruce ducked under cornerback Denard Walker to make the catch, and then beat Anthony Dorsett to the end zone for the touchdown.

"I got hit and couldn't see the play," said Warner, who was sacked only once but was knocked to the ground numerous times. "I thought he caught it, but didn't see him take it into the end zone."

Warner completed 24 of 45 passes in the game when the Rams' offense was reduced to only the pass. Running back Marshall Faulk was held to 17 rushing yards on 10 carries, but had five catches for 90 yards.

"I always believed in myself, and a whole bunch of people believed in me [here]," Warner said. "It's because of these guys and the confidence they had in me that I'm standing up here today."

Said Titans coach Jeff Fisher: "Kurt had a marvelous game. He was hit and hit and hit, but made plays to win the game."

The victory was the Rams' first in two Super Bowl appearances, and comes five years after they moved to St. Louis.

"It proves we did the right thing in going to St. Louis," said Rams owner Georgia Frontiere.

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