ST. LOUIS -- They call themselves ''The Greatest Show on Earth.'' While the St. Louis Rams aren't always great, they were certainly too much for the NFC to handle.
Now let's see if the New England Patriots can stop them in the Super Bowl.
Marshall Faulk rushed for a career playoff-high 159 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead the Rams to a 29-24 victory over the gritty Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game Sunday.
''I couldn't ask for anything better than to go back to New Orleans and play in front of my friends and family,'' said Faulk, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year three straight seasons and a native of the Big Easy.
It won't be easy for the Patriots to slow Faulk, who became the focal point for the Rams (16-2) in the second half -- when he delivered his two 1-yard scoring runs.
''We felt to win this game, we had to get that ball to Marshall,'' coach Mike Martz said. ''I think what everybody thinks -- he is just a great player. ... He took over the ballgame in certain situations.''
As did league MVP Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and a defense that has developed a knack for big plays. When they all came alive in the second half, the Rams earned their second trip to the Super Bowl in three years. Two years ago, St. Louis beat Tennessee for its first Super Bowl title.
The trip south didn't look likely early in the game as the Eagles' stingy defense kept the Rams off-balance and Philadelphia took a 17-13 lead at halftime. But in the second half, Warner, Faulk and Bruce, Warner's favorite receiver, were too much.
Bruce had eight receptions for 84 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown. Warner finished 22-of-33 for 212 yards.
They did it against a defense that hadn't allowed more than 21 points all season and led the league in red-zone efficiency.
''Offensively, they hadn't really stopped us,'' Warner said. ''They stopped us from getting into the end zone early, so we wanted to continue to do what we did in the first half and make sure we finished off some drives.''
The Rams turned the game around in the third quarter by dominating the clock and scoring 10 points. They ran 22 of the 28 plays in the period, getting Jeff Wilkins' third field goal, a 41-yarder, and one of Faulk's touchdowns.
With his helmet ripped off on the play, Faulk fell into the end zone and the raucous crowd sensed the Eagles were through. So did the St. Louis defense, which forced a second and third straight three-and-out series.
''You have to give our offense a lot of credit. They took over the third quarter, allowed us to get fresh,'' All-Pro cornerback Aeneas Williams said. ''That gave us a chance to make plays.''
It was a powerful display by the Rams, who forced eight turnovers the previous week against the Green Bay Packers, returning three interceptions for touchdowns. There were few such big plays against Donovan McNabb, but St. Louis was unyielding for much of the second half.
McNabb did lead Philadelphia 48 yards and ran for a 3-yard touchdown with 2:56 to go. After forcing a punt, the Eagles had one last comeback try, but Williams got his sixth career playoff interception.
Williams then ran all the way to his own end zone, flanked by jubilant teammates, to celebrate his first Super Bowl trip.
''I've enjoyed the journey,'' said Williams, who spent his first 10 pro seasons losing a lot in Arizona. ''This is a very special team.''
Warner took a painkilling injection before the game and was not bothered by the sore ribs that forced him to miss practice Thursday. He didn't need to be spectacular with Bruce and Faulk around.
When Faulk dived in from the 1 with 6:55 remaining, he was headed home to New Orleans.
''I left it all out there,'' he said. ''I couldn't have written a script better than this. It's something every football player should get to feel.''
McNabb didn't feel the better team necessarily won.
''They just scored more points,'' McNabb said.
McNabb was effective at times, but had little chance in the decisive third quarter as his blocking fell apart. He finished 18-for-30 for 171 yards and ran for only 26 yards -- his fewest in these playoffs.
The Eagles, in their first conference championship game since the 1980 season, looked like novices early on.
McNabb's first pass was blocked by Chidi Ahanotu. Pressured on the next play by Leonard Little, McNabb dropped the ball and Brian Young recovered.
It took the Rams five plays to get into the end zone, on Warner's 4-yard pass to Bruce.
Philadelphia looked much sharper the rest of the half, and took the lead when McNabb hit Todd Pinkston for a 12-yard touchdown with 46 seconds left in the second quarter -- just the second time the Rams trailed at halftime this season. St. Louis had outscored opponents 329-146 in the first half.
After Bruce's score, McNabb twice scrambled for first downs to put All-Pro David Akers in position for a 46-yard field goal.
Akers, looking like a safety, made an open-field tackle on Yo Murphy's 43-yard return of the ensuing kickoff. But the Rams, sparked by Faulk's 15-yard run, reached the Philadelphia 9 and Wilkins kicked a 27-yard field goal.
During that drive, St. Louis lost All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace to a sprained right knee. He returned 10 plays later.
Wilkins struck the upright with a 53-yard field goal attempt, and the energized Eagles then tied it. Rookie Correll Buckhalter broke up the middle for a 31-yard gain, leading to Duce Staley's 1-yard dive to make it 10-10.
Faulk returned the favor with his own 31-yard sprint, leading to Wilkins' 39-yarder. Faulk also had runs of 25 and 21 yards.
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.