- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

In five weeks, the St. Louis Rams crashed from high-flying Super Bowl favorite to the same territory inhabited by the perpetual laughingstock Cincinnati Bengals.
The "Greatest Show on Turf" had not only been grounded but was seemingly buried.
The Rams, who won the title in 1999 and came within a field goal of doing so again in January, were 0-5 despite having 18 starters back. Quarterback Kurt Warner, a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, was out for 6-8 weeks. Halfback Marshall Faulk, the league MVP in 2000, had rushed for just 52 yards a game. Pro Bowl receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt had combined for one touchdown catch. The defense had just been torched by NFC West archrival San Francisco for 386 yards and had lost Pro Bowl cornerback Aeneas Williams for the year.
"The mentality of losing the Super Bowl when everybody expected us to win it hung with us," said Warner, who completed 70 percent of his passes but with eight interceptions and just one touchdown during his three-plus games before breaking his right pinkie.
"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves that 'we have to win this year' because we didn't win last year. Everybody was pressing, trying to be perfect with every pass they threw, every route they ran, every block they made. We were making mistakes that were very uncharacteristic of us. We were all pressing to make sure that we did everything not to cause us to lose. In doing so, we didn't have fun and didn't play the way that we always had."
Coach Mike Martz said he made a point of not getting too tight as his talented team was flailing. Warner said the Rams went back to their loose style after bottoming out in a 37-13 loss to San Francisco. If losing to lowly Dallas at home the week before (and losing Warner in the process) wasn't shocking enough, trailing 27-3 at halftime against a team they had beaten six times from 1999 to 2001 by an average of two touchdowns did the trick.
"Maybe we thought, 'We're out of this thing let's just go out and play and have fun,'" Warner suggested. "We got that fire back, and with that fire we've been able to run off five straight and play at a high level."
No team has recovered from an 0-5 start to win the Super Bowl but no team had ever gone 3-13 one year and won the title the next before the 1999 Rams. And although beating Arizona, Seattle and Chicago is routine stuff, the thrashing of Oakland and the late 14-point comeback to edge San Diego two weeks ago showed that St. Louis is for real again as it awaits tomorrow's FedEx Field date with the Washington Redskins.
The offense has averaged 28 points and 425 yards during the winning streak, with Bruce and Holt combining for five touchdowns and Faulk scoring six. The defense has allowed 53 points during the 5-0 tear while recording 18 sacks and stopping 73 percent of third downs.
"The [great] teams separate themselves by playing at a high level for however many games they have to play to win the Super Bowl," Warner said. "This team has the potential to do that. We have the capability of playing at an extremely high level and beating anybody."
That's especially true with Faulk possibly returning tomorrow at Washington after missing the Bears' game with a bad ankle and with Warner back in the lineup, replacing the raw but highly effective Marc Bulger. The former third-stringer had a 12-4 touchdown/interception ratio while going 5-0, but Warner is the highest-rated passer in NFL history despite his ugly September.
Bulger's own ailing right index finger, which kept him out of practice this week, made Martz's decision easier even though the kid is leading the league in passing and had thrown for a record 1,496 yards in his first five starts.
"Marc is playing so well, but it's time for Kurt to come back," Martz said. "It's hard to do this to Marc, but you've got a guy who has been in two Super Bowls and has been the MVP twice. Kurt's capable of being at that level this week."
Bulger, happy to have shown he's a legitimate NFL quarterback, has no beef with his benching. Still Warner, whose shelf-stocker to Super Bowl hero story captured the hearts and minds of the sports world in 1999, sees himself in the unaccustomed role of the heavy.
"I'm in a no-win situation," Warner said. "You go out and play well and it's like, 'We expect him to play well because he has always done it in the past.' If [the Rams lose], it's a huge controversy and a big mistake."
Not that Warner has any doubt he should be the starter.
"Marc plays great for five games and all of a sudden they're saying, 'He's the better quarterback,'" Warner said. "He's rolling, but I've played at such a high level for so long to think a course of five games could change all that is kind of crazy."
No crazier than thinking an 0-5 team can bounce back to win the Super Bowl.


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