Drive to win fuels Warner's success

NFL: Despite suffering from a variety of injuries this season, quarterback Kurt Warner has the Rams on the cusp of another Super Bowl title.

Super Bowl Patriots Vs. Rams

January 31, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS -- For all the attention given Tom Brady's ankle, Kurt Warner's ribs might pose the bigger problem in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Warner suffered his injury late -- and some say needlessly -- in the St. Louis Rams' divisional playoff win over Green Bay two weeks ago, long after the issue had been decided.

It was the most recent in a bizarre rash of injuries or ailments that has afflicted the Rams' MVP quarterback this season. Warner has endured an injured finger on his passing hand, bruised vocal chords, a stomach virus, back spasms and bruised ribs. Most of the misery has come in the postseason.

"I've had a strange three weeks with a lot of things going on and a lot of setbacks physically ... but I've been fortunate that I've pulled through all of them," Warner said.

Warner at less than 100 percent may be the best way for the New England Patriots to slow the Rams' fast-break offense on Sunday. The accumulation of cranky body parts appears to have had an effect in the playoffs, when Warner produced two of his four lowest passing yardage totals for the season.

In his two postseason victories, he has thrown for 212 and 216 yards.

Not that the Rams seem concerned. Coach Mike Martz insists his quarterback is fine, and Warner has speculated he'll be "close to 100 percent by Sunday."

Warner's treatment has been to ice, heat and stretch his ribs. After taking an electro-stimulus treatment early last week, he had spasms and cramping and was forced to sit out a practice. That effectively ended the electro-stimulus treatment.

Warner's health is a consideration given the fact the Patriots inflicted the most physical damage on the Rams in their Week 10 meeting, won by St. Louis. No less than five Rams regulars left the game with injuries.

The Rams expect another physical game from the Patriots on Sunday. And to complicate matters, Warner's left tackle, Pro Bowl pick Orlando Pace, is nursing a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, an injury he suffered in the first half of Sunday's NFC championship game against Philadelphia. Pace returned to play in the second half, however, earning a game ball.

Pace was listed as questionable on the first injury report of the week yesterday. Rams coach Mike Martz said Pace would play, but wouldn't practice until tomorrow.

Warner knows how critical it is to have Pace protecting his blind side in the pocket.

"Obviously, it's important to have guys in there who have worked together all year long," Warner said. "There's just a confidence when Orlando is in the game. He's kind of the stalwart of the front five. ... When he went down [Sunday], it was a big blow, and when he came back in, it was a big confidence boost. He's obviously somebody that we need with all the blitz packages that we assume we're going to see."

The Rams kept Philadelphia's celebrated blitz off their quarterback in the NFC championship game, giving up one sack. The challenge will be similar Sunday.

In his stunning ascent to the top of the NFL quarterback list, Warner has shown toughness as well as durability. What separates him from the rest, said running back Marshall Faulk, is his desire.

"I don't think it has anything to do with Xs and Os," Faulk said. "Any other quarterback knows just as much as him. It's just his will and his desire to be the best at what he does. He perseveres and makes himself what he is."

Warner is the unquestioned leader of a team that has reached the Super Bowl twice in three years.

"I feel blessed that he is on our team," receiver Ricky Proehl said. "He is a leader on and off the field. He is a guy that everybody on this football team has a great deal of respect for because he has great leadership qualities."

Said Martz: "When we look at a quarterback, we try to hold them to three things -- accuracy, first and foremost, his intelligence, and then his toughness. Everything else is just kind of icing on the cake. Kurt is off the charts in all three of these areas, but primarily his accuracy is truly unusual. He can put the ball wherever he wants to."

Warner led the NFL with his 68.7 completion percentage this season. Even with missed practice time and his various ailments, he's hit 63.5 percent in the postseason.

To what does he attribute such touch?

"I think part of it is God-given," he said. "I think some guys have that ability, just like great jump shooters; they have the ability to make a shot no matter what the situation.

"And then my experiences. The Arena League had to help fine-tune that a little bit with the tightness and quickness of the game. But really, it was a God-given ability and something that I've taken to the next level through some of the experiences I've had."

This season, Warner proved that he can play through pain.

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