- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

ST. LOUIS The St. Louis Rams now understand the terror they've regularly imposed this season.
Philadelpia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb temporarily silenced the crowd at Dome at America's Center where early triple-digit noise decibles resembled a chain saw with a four-point halftime lead. However, the "Greatest Show on Turf" managed a Houdini-like escape with cornerback Aeneas Williams' interception securing St. Louis' 29-24 NFC Championship victory last night.
"It was a championship heavyweight bout," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "These guys have so many different ways to win, whether it's a circus catch or Marshall [Faulk [JUMP]running] or Aeneas getting an interception. They take turns."
The Rams (16-2) are 14-point favorites over the New England Patriots (13-5) in Super Bowl XXXVI on Sunday in New Orleans. St. Louis seeks its second championship in three years, but the Patriots will enter as the surprise team instead of the Rams. St. Louis understands the second victory won't come easily.
"[Winning it all in 1999] was a dream season, and nobody expected us to do anything," St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner said. "This year may be a little more rewarding because we were the team that everyone wanted to beat. It would have been a disapointment if we had not made it [to the Super Bowl.]"
Philadelphia (13-6) reached its first conference final in 20 years after taking the NFC East championship. It was a solid season for an emerging young team.
"It's a step forward," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "We have virtually the whole team returning next year."
Ultimately, the Rams outlasted the Eagles. Warner and Faulk, one-two in NFL MVP voting, respectively, combined for 371 yards and three touchdowns. Faulk's 159 yards with two 1-yard touchdowns put away the Eagles in the second half, while Warner completed 22 of 33 for 212 yards and one touchdown.
"All of their MVPs stepped up today," Eagles safety Damon Moore said. "They made big plays in crucial situations. Marshall is very elusive, and it's hard to get to him at times."
Warner took a cortisone shot to his sore ribs before kickoff after practicing little last week. However, Warner never seemed limited and was well protected, getting sacked only once. Warner mixed his passes well, with receiver Isaac Bruce grabbing eight receptions for 84 yards and a 12-yard touchdown.
The Rams relied heavily on Faulk in the second half, including seven straight carries in the opening drive.
"I said, 'Really?' I didn't even think about it," he said of seven straight runs. "There are so many things you have to focus on, but how many straight times is not one of them. You have to be willing to do that for your team. I have to take the hits. [The Eagles] know I'm getting the ball. The best man wins."
Said Martz: "We felt to win this game we had to get the ball to Marshall. He took over the game in several situations. He's the best of the best. In a real crunch, you have to get him the ball."
McNabb showed the same pocket poise that paced the Eagles' two earlier playoff victories. McNabb scrambled enough 26 yards on four carries with one touchdown to keep the Rams off-balance. The extra time scrambling in the backfield often allowed receivers to separate or reach downfield passes. McNabb completed 18 of 30 for 171 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
St. Louis scored on six of 11 possessions, but Philadelphia made enough plays to remain alive until its final drive ended when Williams slipped inside Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell for an interception on fourth down with 1:47 remaining. It was Williams' third postseason interception.
"Early in the game McNabb doesn't throw that ball, but when the game's on the line he has no alternative," Williams said. "He knew he needed to make a play."
Philadelphia led 17-13 at halftime, with both offenses steadily counterpunching. St. Louis led 7-0 after just three minutes on Bruce's 4-yard touchdown catch set up by McNabb's fumble on the game's second snap. The Eagles followed with a 46-yard field goal with 5:44 remaining in the first quarter, but the Rams led 10-3 on a 27-yarder with 1:06 left.
Philadelphia used a 31-yard draw play by running back Correll Buckhalter to set up running back Duce Staley's 1-yard touchdown run for 10-10 tie with 6:56 remaining in the first half. St. Louis followed with Faulk's 31-yard run that set up a 39-yard field goal. McNabb completed five of six passes, including a 12-yarder to receiver Todd Pinkston with 46 seconds remaining for a 17-13 halftime lead.
St. Louis led 22-17 after a 9-0 third-quarter run on consecutive long scoring drives. The Rams used a 41-yard field goal and a 1-yard Faulk touchdown run to regain the lead with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter. Faulk's second 1-yard touchdown with 6:55 left capped the victory. However, McNabb's 3-yard touchdown run with 2:56 remaining prevented a runanway win.

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