Faulk injured as Bucs drop defending NFC champs to 0-3

Rams in full fetal-position curl

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers really seem to have figured out the St. Louis Rams.

The Bucs' vaunted defense knocked running back Marshall Faulk out of the game and intercepted Kurt Warner four times Monday night in a 26-14 victory for Tampa Bay.

This was the Bucs' third straight win over St. Louis in a heated rivalry that began with the Rams' 11-6 victory in the 1999 NFC championship game.

''It's funny how they bring the best out of us,'' Bucs tackle Warren Sapp said. ''They're the best. They're the 'Greatest Show on Turf.'''

Brad Johnson threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Rickey Dudley and Martin Gramatica kicked field goals of 39 and 47 yards to help the Bucs (2-1) build a 13-7 halftime lead.

Brian Kelly's interception and 31-yard return to the St. Louis 1 set up Mike Alstott's TD plunge to put Tampa Bay up 19-7 with 10:42 to go. The Rams pulled within five points on Lamar Gordon's 20-yard TD run, but couldn't score again in the last four minutes.

''We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves,'' Rams coach Mike Martz said. ''We have to dig ourselves out of this hole and fight back. We created this situation and we have to be good enough to get out.''

Linebacker Derrick Brooks put the exclamation point on the victory, returning an interception 39 yards for a TD, a score assured when Sapp flattened Warner near the goal line. He also scored on a 97-yard interception return in Tampa Bay's 25-0 win over Baltimore last week.

Faulk, who rushed for 9 yards on six carries, left with a neck strain early in the second quarter and did not return. He scored on a 5-yard run in the first quarter and caught two passes for 27 yards.

''Marshall's X-ray was negative,'' Martz said. ''He was in a lot of pain. He will have an MRI (Tuesday).''

The Rams opened the season with losses to the Denver Broncos and New York Giants, but maintained there was no reason for alarm. Overcoming an 0-3 start will be difficult, though.

In the past five seasons, 28 teams have started 0-3. Just one, the 1998 Arizona Cardinals, have made the playoffs.

''It's crazy right now,'' Rams receiver Torry Holt said. ''I think everyone is feeling a little disappointed.

"We have to put this behind us, make some adjustments and go out and play a good Dallas team.''

Warner finished 30-of-45 for 301 yards and no touchdowns. He was sacked five times.

Johnson was 23-of-33 for 199 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for Tampa Bay.

Since their memorable meeting in the 1999 title game, the Rams and Bucs have faced each other three consecutive years on ''Monday Night Football.''

Tampa Bay won 38-35 at Raymond James Stadium in 2000 and 24-17 at St. Louis last season.

The Bucs like to think no defense matches up better with the high-powered Rams, and the results support their contention.

Since the start of the 1999 season, St. Louis has been held to 20 points or fewer just eight times. Tampa Bay, with three, is the only opponent to do it more than once.

The Rams marched 91 yards on their first possession to take a 7-3 lead on Faulk's 5-yard run. But without the seven-time 1,000-yard rusher for most of the last three quarters, St. Louis was unable to move the ball with any kind of consistency.

''We have all the ingredients it takes to play these guys well,'' Bucs safety John Lynch said.

''We have a front four that can rush the heck out of people. We've got linebackers that can tackle in space. We've got safeties and corners that will tackle and intimidate receivers. I think all of that plays into a good matchup for us.''

Notes: Faulk's touchdown moved him ahead of Hall of Famer Lenny Moore into eighth place on the all-time list with 114. ... Bucs guard Kerry Jenkins left the game late in the second quarter with what the Bucs believe is a cracked bone in his left leg. ... Brooks strained his left hamstring in the fourth quarter, but wasn't hampered during his game-clinching interception return.

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