ST. LOUIS -- The still-soaring St. Louis Rams are going back to the Super Bowl for their second appearance in three years. This time, they will continue to show off one of the most potent offenses in the history of the game. But now, they also have a defense the offense can be proud to call its own.
Never was that more obvious than in the final minutes of Sunday's tense 29-24 Rams victory over an Eagles team that took a four-point lead at the half and seemed capable of pulling off a stunning upset with the ball in their hands at midfield with 2 minutes 20 seconds left to play and trailing by five.
Instead, the Rams held on in the end to pull out a draining triumph and advance to Super Bowl XXXVI against the New England Patriots next Sunday in New Orleans. The two teams met earlier Nov. 18, with the Rams prevailing 24-17 on the road. That was contested on real grass outdoors; the title game will be indoors on artificial turf, a surface the Rams were built to play on.
Aeneas Williams, the Rams' 33-year-old cornerback who ran back two interceptions for touchdowns last week to help bury the Green Bay Packers, picked off another pass with 1:47 remaining Sunday to seal the game and allow him to play in a Super Bowl for the first time in his 11-year career.
"I couldn't have written a better script," Williams said. "It's a tremendous experience... . As a defense, you love to be in situations like that."
And Rams running back Marshall Faulk, the MVP of the 2000 season and offensive player of the year in 2001, loved getting the ball 31 times for 159 yards rushing, including two one-yard touchdown runs and four receptions for 13 more yards.
At halftime, St. Louis Coach Mike Martz said he realized it was time to put the ball in the hands of his best player.
"We had 30 minutes to play, and we felt to win this game, we had to give the ball to Marshall," said Martz, the offensive coordinator of the '99 Super Bowl championship team now in his second year as the Rams' head coach. "He's just a great, great player. He took over the game."
The same could not be said for the Eagles and their gifted quarterback, Donovan McNabb.
Though McNabb completed 18 of 30 throws for 171 yards, for the most part the Rams kept him from breaking across the line of scrimmage for large gains. His fumble on the second play of the game led to an early St. Louis touchdown, and his interception on his final pass of the season ended any Philadelphia chance to march to the game-winning touchdown.
McNabb had four carries for 26 yards, though his three-yard touchdown run with 2:56 remaining did get the Eagles back in the game and give their fans a glimmer of hope. He was sacked three times and often was surrounded by Rams defenders not willing to give him an open running lane.
"When you play a team like that, you have to take advantage of every opportunity you have," McNabb said. "They controlled the clock (in the second half)."
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