Meanwhile, New Orleans spectators embarrass themselves

St. Louis embarrasses Saints

Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2001

NEW ORLEANS -- The St. Louis Rams are riding Kurt Warner's arm toward the Super Bowl.

In a game halted briefly by fans throwing debris, the Rams clinched a playoff spot by beating New Orleans 34-21 Monday night, the first step on what they hope is a trip back here for the NFL's title game Feb. 3.

Warner threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns, three of them to Isaac Bruce and the other to Marshall Faulk. Grant Wistrom led the defense with three sacks and an interception.

''I think this was a big challenge to him after the game in St. Louis where he had the interceptions.'' coach Mike Martz said of Warner, who threw four interceptions in a 34-31 loss to the Saints on Oct. 28.

''He was upset with the whole situation. I think Kurt had something to prove in this game.''

A day after a game in Cleveland had to be stopped for a half-hour because of rowdy fans, this one was interrupted briefly by fans throwing objects on the field after a pass interference call against the Saints with 9:39 left in the game.

''I think that was unacceptable what they did,'' Saints coach Jim Haslett said. ''There's no reason to do that.''

There were 13 arrests for offenses ranging from drunk and disorderly to battery. Fifteen other people were ejected in the disturbance, which was quickly quelled by security personnel as the public address announcer said: ''This is New Orleans. We are sportsmen.''

The win by St. Louis (11-2) also kept the Rams a game ahead of Chicago in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs and clinched a postseason berth for San Francisco. The 49ers, a game behind, still have an outside chance of catching the Rams in the NFC West, but St. Louis' two wins over San Francisco gives the Rams the tiebreaker.

The Saints (7-6) remain in contention for a wild card spot, with a key game coming up in Tampa next week against the Bucs, who have the same record.

St. Louis won despite a myriad of mistakes.

The Rams lost two fumbles, increasing their league-leading giveaway total to 37. One set up a Saints touchdown and the other prevented a score by the Rams.

St. Louis also squandered all its timeouts in the first and third quarters, two of them on replay challenges that failed.

But the Saints also hurt themselves -- they had 16 penalties for 132 yards. And they failed on an onside kick in the first quarter and a fake field goal in the second.

''Every time we got something started, we'd get a penalty,'' Jim Haslett said. ''You can't put yourself in those positions against a team like that. They played extremely well.''

Of the onside kick, Haslett said: ''You've got to kick it. You've got to get it to the 40-yard-line. It doesn't work if you only get it to the 38.''

The Rams led 21-14 at the half, taking the lead on a 4-yard pass from Warner to Faulk with 28 seconds left.

New Orleans, which won three of its previous four games with St. Louis, opened the scoring with a 4-yard TD pass from Aaron Brooks to fullback Terrelle Smith.

But the Saints' attempt at an onside kick was touched before it went 10 yards. The Rams took advantage, taking eight plays to score on Warner's 6-yard pass to Bruce.

That pair combined again in the six minutes into the second quarter on an 11-yard TD, giving the Rams a 14-7 lead.

Az-Zahir Hakim, whose fumbled punt against the Saints last season clinched New Orleans' first playoff win ever, fumbled another punt late in the period, and Fred McAfee recovered at the St. Louis 38. Three plays later, Brooks found Joe Horn from 6 yards to tie it.

But the Rams went 79 yards in just 1:28 for the TD that closed the half.

The Saints' first possession in the third quarter started in good field position -- their own 39. On the first play, however, Wistrom intercepted an attempted screen, and two plays later, Warner, who completed 23 of 32 passes, found Bruce all alone down the sideline for a 40-yard score that made it 28-14.

New Orleans closed to 28-21 on a 28-yard TD pass from Brooks to Willie Jackson. It came after the Saints had first-and-goal at the 4, but they were moved back by four consecutive penalties -- delay of game, illegal motion, holding and a personal foul.

Jeff Wilkins' 43-yard field goal in the first minute of the fourth period made it 31-21. Wilkins added a 27-yarder seven minutes later.

Notes: Smith's TD catch for New Orleans was his second this season on only four receptions. ... Martz, who leads the NFL in challenges, lost both of his, one on the spot of the ball on a kickoff return, the other on a fumble by Ernie Conwell at the New Orleans 6. ... With 1:02 left in the game, the officials stopped the game for more than 4 minutes after the replay official challenged a call, referee Larry Nemmers upheld it, and the officials had to go back to the replay to determine where the ball would be spotted.

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