Faulk, Rams run to NFC title

St. Louis grinds out second-half rally, thwarts Eagles, 29-24

Pro Football : Nfc Championship Game

January 28, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- When they were in the unusual position of trailing at halftime and needed something to take control of the game, the high-flying St. Louis Rams turned away from their usual offensive innovation and to a time-tested NFL formula for success.

The Rams ran the ball, played stellar defense and controlled field position throughout the second half of their 29-24 NFC championship victory over the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday before 66,502 at the Dome of America's Center.

And because the Rams (16-2) turned a tit-for-tat first half into a hard-fought win by game's end, they will make their second Super Bowl appearance in three years Sunday against the New England Patriots (13-5).

"We are very fortunate to come out on top, and we couldn't be more pleased," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "But that is a great team. I have to give them a great deal of credit for the job that Andy [Reid, coach] has done."

Down 17-13 at halftime, St. Louis came out with seven straight running plays to Marshall Faulk. Faulk, who finished with 159 rushing yards on 31 attempts, gained 27 on those carries and helped set up a 41-yard Jeff Wilkins field goal that closed the Eagles' lead to one.

Holding the Rams, the league's No. 1 offense, to a field goal is usually something most teams will take, but not in the manner in which it occurred. St. Louis took nearly seven minutes off the clock and established a physical presence at the line rarely associated with Martz's team.

The big payoff came on the Rams' next two scoring possessions. After holding the Eagles (13-6) to a three-and-out series after the field goal, St. Louis went on a 10-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard Faulk touchdown run to go up 22-17 with 1:18 left in the third quarter (tight end Ernie Conwell dropped the two-point conversion attempt).

Faulk then accounted for 37 rushing yards on the Rams' game-clinching touchdown drive midway in the fourth quarter. On third-and-one from the Eagles' 47, Faulk took a Kurt Warner handoff 25 yards. Three plays later, Faulk capped the drive by hammering right into the middle of the Eagles' defense for a 1-yard touchdown run that put his team up 29-17 with seven minutes left.

"We had 30 minutes to play, and we were down by four, and we just felt like to win, we had to get the ball to Marshall," Martz said. "I just think what everybody thinks that he is a great player. We just felt like after that first half, we could have some success."

Martz was right. St. Louis gained 161 yards on the ground and averaged 4.9 yards a carry. Faulk, who in previous Rams playoff games has not always been the first option, nearly doubled his previous postseason high of 82 yards last week vs. Green Bay.

"To be honest, I was just out there," Faulk said. "I hear the play, execute the play to the best of my ability, and that's it.

"You never know when Coach Martz is going to call on you. For me, I'm always prepared for when my number is called."

Warner, the league MVP who had to take a shot for his bruised ribs before the game, did not object to taking a back seat. The Rams, though, were no less effective through the air, as Warner completed 22 of 33 passes for 212 yards and a 5-yard, first-quarter touchdown to Isaac Bruce.

Philadelphia's vaunted blitz never was able to rattle Warner, who was sacked just once.

"The Rams had a great game plan ready for us," Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas said.

While Faulk and Warner helped total 371 yards for the Rams, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb struggled through the first 20 minutes of the second half. Philadelphia could not muster a first down on its first three possessions.

This was in sharp contrast to the first half when the Eagles racked up 182 yards and McNabb led touchdown drives of 57 and 59 yards.

They put the Eagles up 17-13 and gave them momentum heading into the locker room.

"They did a nice job running the football on that first series [of the second half]," Reid said. "When we had our opportunity, we didn't sustain the time. We were three-and-out. You can't do that against a good football team."

Said running back Duce Staley: "They did a great job of keeping our defense on the field and our offense off. When you don't have the ball, you can't gain any yardage."

Still, McNabb was able to lead a spirited comeback. Down 12 with less than six minutes left, McNabb capped a nine-play, 48-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown scamper with three minutes left.

The Eagles forced a Rams' three-and-out, their only one of the day, and got the ball back with 2:20 left at their 45. But McNabb was intercepted by veteran cornerback Aeneas Williams at the Rams' 34.

"We felt we were a team of destiny all year long and we finally proved it," Warner said. "To go back for the second time in three years, this is one of the greatest things in the world."

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