Forced turnovers and crimping Marshall Faulk work again.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2002
TAMPA -- The Bucs created the formula for beating the Rams two years ago: stop running back Marshall Faulk and force St. Louis into turnovers.
In Monday's 26-14 victory, Tampa Bay's defense didn't just stop Faulk, it knocked him out of the game. And it caused so many turnovers, it could afford to give a few back.
Faulk, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in seven of eight seasons, left with a neck injury early in the second quarter and Tampa Bay's defense took over. By shutting down the Rams running game and applying consistent pressure on quarterback Kurt Warner, the Bucs forced four interceptions, leading to 23 points.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks' 39-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minute capped Tampa Bay's third consecutive Monday night victory over St. Louis.
The Bucs forced only two turnovers -- both on Brooks interceptions -- in their first two games of the season.
"All we had to do was play good, solid defense," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "After the second quarter, we went into the locker room and told ourselves we had to come out in the third quarter and really play for us to have a chance to win the game, and with Faulk out, it really helped us."
The plan was identical to the one the Bucs followed in their two previous victories over the Rams, who have lost 15 of 57 games since 1999.
The Bucs limited the Rams to 345 yards, 80 below their league-leading average of 425, and held Faulk to 55 yards on 12 carries in last season's 24-17 victory. Six turnovers, including four fumbles, were too much for St. Louis to overcome.
Defensive end Simeon Rice set the tone Monday with a momentum-changing interception in the second quarter.
The Rams led 7-6 at the time and appeared to be driving for another score when Rice dropped into pass coverage and Warner threw right to him for Rice's second career interception and first since 1997. Rice returned the ball 30 yards to the Tampa Bay 44, leading to tight end Rickey Dudley's 9-yard touchdown reception that put the Bucs ahead 13-7 with 57 seconds left in the half.
Dexter Jackson intercepted Warner two plays later, but the play was nullified because of a false start penalty on the Rams' Torry Holt. Jackson, however, had the last laugh, intercepting Warner again on the final play of the half.
Cornerback Brian Kelly got into the act, making his first interception in 23 games and fourth of his career early in the fourth quarter. Kelly returned the ball 31 yards to the St. Louis 1, setting up Mike Alstott's 2-yard touchdown run that put Tampa Bay ahead 19-7 with 10:42 remaining.
"All week we have been telling each other to keep our eyes on Kurt Warner," Kelly said. "We were getting good reads on the ball. All game, we were getting good jumps on the ball."
The Bucs held the Rams to 89 net rushing yards on 20 carries.
Faulk had 9 yards on six carries and two receptions for 27 yards before the injury. Replacement Trung Canidate gained 15 yards on six carries.
"Give those guys credit, they were better," Warner said. "They are a great football team in their house."