Rams play pick Pack

Favre intercepted six times

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- More records fell at the hands of the St. Louis Rams.

But this time, rather than the speedy offense, it was the vastly improved St. Louis defense setting NFL marks Sunday in a 45-17 rout of the Green Bay Packers. The victory sent the Rams to the NFC championship game against Philadelphia.

Just what the rest of the NFL needs, a St. Louis defense as prolific as its offense.

All-Pro cornerback Aeneas Williams led the way by returning two interceptions for touchdowns, an NFL playoff record.

''Because our offense is so outstanding, we as a defense can go into the house, take out all the goods, break out and nobody even knows we were there,'' Williams said. ''Now they get to have the same treat on offense, sit back and watch us play well and enjoy it.''

The Rams (15-2) picked off six passes by Brett Favre, returning three for scores; rookie Tommy Polley went 34 yards for his touchdown and added another interception.

Kim Herring and Dexter McCleon also grabbed passes by Favre, who tied the one-game playoff mark set by three others, although no one had done it since 1955.

''I could have thrown eight had we gotten the ball back,'' Favre said after setting an ignominious career high in the worst playoff loss in Packers history. ''I was going to keep chucking.''

That's what the Rams expected. They sort of counted on it.

''We knew because Brett is so confident he could get the ball in there, we would get some chances,'' said Williams, who spent the first 10 years of his NFL career with Arizona and played in all of two postseason games. ''A lot of defenders miss those torpedoes he has thrown. We knew the key was to catch them when we had chances.''

Not surprisingly, the Rams did plenty of damage offensively in advancing to the title game for the second time in three years. Next Sunday, Philadelphia will need to be more protective of the ball and much stauncher on defense than was Green Bay.

NFL MVP Kurt Warner didn't make any game-turning plays, leaving that to the league's most improved defense.

But he had 4-yard TD passes to Torry Holt and James Hodgins in the first half, and his perfect 50-yard pass to Holt after Williams forced another turnover led to Marshall Faulk's 7-yard scoring run. That made it 31-10 early in the third quarter, and the rout was on.

''It was awesome,'' Warner said of the defensive performance. ''It's a great luxury to know you don't have to force plays. We could get off the field and let our defense play.''

Williams stole the ball from Antonio Freeman 3:33 into the second half. Four minutes later, Polley grabbed Grant Wistrom's deflection and ran 34 yards for his score.

Polley got another interception in the fourth quarter after Ahman Green tipped a pass directly to him. Green did the same thing on Williams' second TD, a 32-yarder with 7:50 remaining.

''We come out every game and prove people wrong,'' Polley said of the lack of recognition for the Rams' defense.

That defense made the first big play of day when Williams caught Favre's pass toward the sideline -- receiver Bill Schroeder ran the wrong route and was nowhere near the ball. Williams sped untouched to the end zone with the first postseason score of his career.

Unfazed, Favre struck right back after an exchange of turnovers. Green fumbled at the St. Louis 40, with rookie Adam Archuleta recovering. Warner gave that back when he was intercepted by Darren Sharper.

On almost the exact route on which he was picked off earlier by Williams, Favre hit Freeman, who eluded McCleon and dived into the end zone for a 22-yard score.

McCleon came back with a fourth-quarter interception.

Freeman's touchdown only enraged the Rams, who scored 14 points in the first 2:24 of the second quarter.

Faulk's 38-yard run, including a brilliant move on former Rams safety Billy Jenkins, led to the touchdown pass to Holt.

Then Favre tried to hit Freeman deep, Herring grabbed it and made a weaving 45-yard return to the Green Bay 4. Two plays later, fullback Hodgins, who had all of six touches during the season, caught his TD pass for a 21-7 edge.

The Packers (13-5) hurt themselves even more when Torrance Marshall was called for holding, negating Allen Rossum's 95-yard kickoff return TD. Although they did get a 28-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell, the Packers couldn't slow the St. Louis express.

A 27-yard completion to backup tight end Jeff Robinson -- Warner made sure everyone was involved -- set up Jeff Wilkins' 27-yard field goal for a 24-10 halftime edge.

Notes: Favre has thrown touchdown passes in 12 straight playoff games, one short of Dan Marino's record. ... The three interception return TDs tied an NFL postseason record set in 1940 in Chicago's 73-0 victory over Washington. ... Freeman's five postseason TD catches are a Packers record. ... Packers FB William Henderson sprained his ankle in the first half. ... Holt sprained his left wrist. Rams DT Jeff Zgonina hyperextended his elbow. ... Longtime Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, recently elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, helped conduct the coin toss. He didn't help the Rams, as Green Bay won the toss. ... Warner finished 18-for-30 for 216 yards; Favre 26-for-44 for 281.

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