ST. LOUIS Like a good veteran, Aeneas Williams knows how to follow instructions.
He couldn't have done a better job Monday night in sparking the St. Louis Rams' 36-0 rout of the Atlanta Falcons. Williams forced two early turnovers, Travis Fisher returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown and Larry Little tackled T.J. Duckett in the end zone for a safety. Atlanta managed only 209 yards in St. Louis' first shutout in two years and the Rams' first home shutout since 1993, when they played in Anaheim.
''That was the emphasis tonight.'' Williams said after his 52nd career pickoff, second among active players to Oakland's Rod Woodson. ''In our meetings, coach Lovie (Smith) would start yelling, 'Interceptions, interceptions.' Even when I would go home, I'd open my refrigerator and hear coach Lovie saying, 'Interceptions, interceptions,' and have to close it right away.''
The Rams closed out the Falcons right away, too.
Williams, playing free safety this year for the first time after a stellar career as a cornerback, picked off Doug Johnson's ill-advised first-quarter pass in the end zone. Then he knocked the ball free from Atlanta tight end Alge Crumpler and recovered the fumble in the second period.
Both turnovers set up long drives for points as St. Louis took a 10-0 halftime lead.
''They beat our butts,'' Falcons quarterback Doug Johnson said. ''I wouldn't want someone to take credit away from me if I whipped somebody's butt.''
Marc Bulger threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns to Torry Holt and Lamar Gordon had a career-high 92 yards rushing, but it was the defense that drew the most praise.
''Give credit to the defense,'' said Holt, who had 161 yards on 11 receptions. ''A goose egg!''
St. Louis (3-2) won its ninth straight home game and handed the Falcons (1-5) their first shutout defeat since 1993. In a span of four plays in the third quarter, the Rams had three sacks. They never allowed Atlanta, ranked 27th in total offense, to threaten to get coach Dan Reeves his 200th career victory.
The Falcons have lost five in a row and are in desperate need of a healthy Michael Vick. Johnson, his replacement, made several critical mistakes and the defense recorded the safety when Little nailed Duckett trying to run out of the end zone in the third quarter. It was the fourth safety the Falcons have yielded this season.
''We're just struggling right now in all areas,'' Reeves said. ''I don't know that one person can make that much difference.''
Williams attempted to run his early interception out of the end zone, but got only to the 1. It looked like an unwise move until Isaac Bruce went to work.
Bulger hit Bruce for 16 yards on third down, and after Gordon's 20-yard run, Bruce, on a reverse, threw perfectly to Holt for 25 yards to the Atlanta 29 the second completion of the wide receiver's 10-year career.
That led to Jeff Wilkins' 28-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead and also established the Rams' willingness to be daring.
The next St. Louis series was punctuated by a 33-yard completion to Bruce. On fourth-and-1 at the 7, Martz went for it, but a pitchout to Gordon was snuffed by linebacker Keith Newman.
No big deal. Williams made his second big play and St. Louis took over at its 42. Bulger capped a 58-yard drive with a 3-yard run up the middle through a gap seemingly as wide as the Mississippi.
''I really didn't feel like I played an NFL game tonight,'' Bulger said. ''I hardly got hit. I thought we were going to get 40 or 50.''
The Falcons never were in it after that. Holt caught a 21-yard TD pass early in the third quarter and had a 14-yarder with 10:44 remaining.
Atlanta got some strong running from Duckett early, only to go away from him at critical times and flop. Duckett rushed for 38 yards in the first quarter and barely made a dent the rest of the way.
Jay Feely attempted a 60-yard field goal at the end of the first half, but Richard Angulo of the Rams blocked it. Otherwise, the Falcons were stymied by the Rams' suddenly strong defense.
''That's probably the worst game as a team I've ever seen in my life,'' Johnson said.
Notes: Rams SS Adam Archuleta sprained his left ankle and a preliminary X-ray was negative. ... Johnson finished 10-for-23 for 134 yards. ... Holt has 23 receptions for 294 yards in the last two games. ... The Rams' last shutout win was 35-0 at Detroit on Oct. 8, 2001, also a Monday nighter. Their last home shutout was 27-0 over Pittsburgh on Sept. 12, 1993.
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