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By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

The top line

Make no mistake, the Rams love to run, and there is no better place to do it than on the artificial surface of the Superdome. Looking for proof? Entering tonight's game, the Rams are 12-2 in domed stadiums this season, including a 34-21 win against the Saints Dec. 17 in New Orleans. That appears to bode well for the Rams' speed-oriented offensive scheme, which features explosive receivers Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim, and the NFL's most deadly open-field running back, Marshall Faulk. "I think it is a little bit to our advantage," Bruce said. "I have played on some good grass that looks like turf and feels like turf, but you can always tell the difference. The speed is definitely there on the turf." The Patriots, who plan to cover the Rams man-to-man, said the speed, particularly on the carpet, will be a challenge. "They seem to be a lot faster, their cuts seem to be more crisp and they do a great job of getting open," Pats cornerback Otis Smith said. "We don't play on turf that much, but we will be a little faster as well."

BY THE NUMBERS

13.3 -- average points allowed by the Patriots defense in their eight-game winning streak.

42 -- red zone touchdowns for the Rams this season, best in the NFL.

126 -- consecutive days Drew Bledsoe hadn't played in a game before entering in the second quarter against the Steelers.

334.5 -- average yards given up by the Rams this season.

334.6 -- average yards given up by the Patriots this season.

YOU AGAIN?

Forgive both teams if they don't seem in awe of the men on the other side of the ball; after all it was just the other day that they met. The Rams knocked off the Patriots 24-17 Nov. 18 in Foxboro, Mass. In that game, St. Louis piled up 482 yards of offense (to New England's 230) but scored all its points in the first half. The Rams held off a rally, which included a 10-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to David Patten with 7:46 left. The Patriots have not lost since.

NOW THAT'S INTERESTING

Did you know that Patriots coach Bill Belichick is close friends with rock star Jon Bon Jovi and former NBA great Charles Barkley? "That surprised me a little bit," linebacker Larry Izzo said. "People have their own lives and what you see at work is not what you're going to see at the house." ... The Patriots were 2-0 in domes and 6-3 on the road this season ... Of course, the Rams were 8-0 on the road this season. ... The Rams led the NFL with 4,663 passing yards, 236 passing first downs, and third- and fourth-down conversion percentages of 50 and 72.7, respectively.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

The Patriots would have gotten a great example of the type of speed the Rams possess had they not faced the Raiders in a heavy snowstorm before and during their playoff game. The Foxboro weather neutralized the Raiders, considered to be the only team in the league close to the Rams.

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