ATLANTA -- With Kurt Warner at quarterback, the St. Louis Rams showed they can score with greater ease from their own 27-yard line than the other team's 27-yard line
in Super Bowl XXXIV Sunday when they beat the Tennessee Titans with one fourth-quarter big play, 23-16.
Wide receiver Isaac Bruce, who caught Warner's long pass for the game-deciding 73-yard touchdown, is but one member of the finest offensive cast in the NFL. But against the Titans, that cast needed a large portion of the field to function properly.
When the Ram receivers lined up inside the Tennessee 20--as they did on six consecutive series in this game--there wasn't enough real estate for them to sprint their way into the open. Whenever the Rams were in the red zone , the Titan defense used the end line as well as the sidelines, in effect, as extra defensive backs.
So the Rams ran to nowhere and passed to nowhere in the red zone the first five times after running and passing their way down field-- settling for three field goals and a 9-0 lead at halftime.
But no defense can stop this offense forever.
At the start of the second half, on their sixth consecutive trip into the red zone, the Rams finally broke through on Warner's 10-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt for a 16-0 lead. That touchdown was set up on Warner's 31-yard pass play to Bruce from the Ram 43 four plays earlier.
Then after the Titans made it one of the most dramatic of the 34 Super Bowls to to tie the score at 16-16, the Rams--who might not have won if they'd had to drive their way into the red zone again-- regained the lead on Bruce's long run after catching Warner's long pass.
Against the Tennessee defense, that was easier than a red-zone play.
An amazingly unflappable quarterback, Warner was pounded for most of the game by the Titan pass rushers .
Warner was battered just as he was against Tampa Bay last Sunday before he delivered the game-deciding touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, a 30-yard play to wide receiver Ricky Proehl .
It didn't seem to matter to Warner how hard --or often--he was hit in the playoffs. He kept picking himself up off the floor.
By contrast, in the regular season he simply threw the ball with routine accuracy with little pressure.
So there were two Warners--the devastating regular-season passer and the one whose heart could determine the outcome of playoff games.
The game-deciding touchdown pass to Bruce came on first down, when most other teams like to run the ball.
Warner saw that Bruce was single-covered on the sideline far down the field, and in a split secondwith rookie defensive end Jevon Kearse in his face--a championship play unfolded.
The Titans won the first game between the teams, 24-21, in Week 8 in Nashville, where the noise made by the large partisan crowd caused the Rams to jump offside or get a delay--of-game penalty 10 times.
In that game, the Rams couldn't hear their signals.
On the neutral field at the Georgia Dome, they could, and that was one of the big differences in the Super Bowl outcome.
And with that noted, perhaps the NFL
should allow headsets next season in every offensive player's helmet.
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