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Constant pressure damages St. Louis

Turnovers, penalties leave Rams winless.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2002

TAMPA -- The Rams, who've seemingly made one mistake after another this season, couldn't even get the easy things right Monday night.

TAMPA -- The Rams, who've seemingly made one mistake after another this season, couldn't even get the easy things right Monday night.

As safety Nick Sorensen waited to down a punt bouncing near the Bucs goal line, he inadvertently let the ball slip through his hands and roll into the end zone for a touchback, ruining a chance to pin the Bucs near their own end zone.

The third-quarter play punctuated another mistake-filled day by the Rams that ended the same way their two previous games did. With a loss.

In all, the Rams had four turnovers (all interceptions), five penalties, a crucial dropped pass, several blown defensive assignments and five sacks allowed in their 26-14 loss.

"I'm a little bit baffled because it's the same team that's been here for so long," St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner said. "I'm baffled that it's taken this long and we still haven't gotten out of this rut we're in."

As was the case in the Rams' losses to the Broncos and the Giants, turnovers and penalties kept their perennially explosive offense in check. The Rams, who came into the game 13th in total offense (339.5 yards per game) and 23rd in scoring (18.5 points per game), amassed 358, but 151 came in the fourth quarter when the Bucs played soft defense.

It didn't help that running back Marshall Faulk sat out after straining his neck midway through the second quarter. Then again, he didn't do much when he was in the game, getting 9 yards on six carries, plus two receptions for 27.

"It always changes the game plan when you lose a guy like that," Warner said.

Thing is, the Rams started the game looking as if they would shake off their early season sluggishness and regain their status as the Greatest Show on Turf. On their opening possession, they drove 91 yards for a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead.

But after that, the mistakes crept back into their game. Threatening to score at the Bucs' 16-yard line at 4 minutes, 30 seconds of the second quarter, Warner, trying to throw an inside slant to receiver Torry Holt, was picked off by defensive end Simeon Rice. The Bucs scored on their next possession to take a 13-7 lead.

Early in the third quarter the Rams missed another scoring opportunity when receiver Isaac Bruce, trying to convert third and 14, dropped a long pass near the Bucs 5-yard line.

While trying to play catchup in the fourth quarter, Warner was picked off twice, both leading to Tampa Bay touchdowns. Brian Kelly's interception led to a 2-yard Mike Alstott touchdown and a 19-7 lead. Then, linebacker Derrick Brooks stepped in front of a Warner pass and returned it 39 yards for the game-clinching score.

The only time the Rams got things going was late in the fourth when the Bucs were guarding against the big play. The Rams marched down the field and got a 20-yard touchdown by running back Lamar Gordon that closed them to 19-14 with 4:21 left.

Warner's fourth interceptionkilled any chance the Rams had of getting their first win. They might have better luck Sunday when they face the 1-2 Cowboys.

"We have to go back and eliminate some of the mistakes we made," cornerback Aeneas Williams said, "and get ready to play Dallas."

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