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Rams' first time's a charm

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 17, 2000


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ST. LOUIS -- The Rams came into Sunday's NFC divisional playoff -- their first nationally televised game this season -- with no playoff experience but with a string of nine victories in the Trans World Dome dating to the final game of '98 season.

"So much for not having much experience in the playoffs," coach Dick Vermeil said, even before the subject came up.

"(UCLA basketball coaching legend) John Wooden told me a long time ago, "Talent is more important that experience,' and we have a lot of talent on this football team."

Going into Sunday's game, the Rams -- in their first post-season since 1989, when they called Los Angeles home -- had 12 players with playoff experience, 49 games' worth.

They brought Vermeil back to the title game for the first time since the 1980 season when he coached Philadelphia. The Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl before losing to Oakland.

It's also a Vermeil return to the playoffs against Tampa Bay, which beat the Eagles 24-17 in 1979. "This team has more talent," Vermeil said of his Rams, "a lot more."

The Rams are 7-6 in home playoff games. The Bucs have never won a playoff game on the road.

THE DROUGHT: While the Rams rolled up 35 consecutive points in the second half, the Vikings didn't manage even a first down.

They went three and out after Tony Horne's 95-yard touchdown run with the kickoff to open the half.

Moe Williams fumbled the kickoff after Marshall Faulk's 1-yard run and James Hodgins recovered at the Vikings 32, but the Rams failed to capitalize, with Jeff Wilkins' wide right on a 42-yard field goal.

Minnesota went three and out again.

The Rams drove 61 yards with tight end Jeff Robinson taking Kurt Warner's 13-yard pass for a touchdown.

The Vikings held onto the next kickoff, but quarterback Jeff George fumbled the first snap and D'Marco Farr pounced on it at the Vikings 23. Four plays later, 1:24 into the fourth quarter, Warner found an open Ryan Tucker on a tackle-eligible play for a score.

Minnesota went three and out for a third time in the stretch (with a delay of game thrown in for good measure) and punted. Warner then drove St. Louis 62 yards in eight plays, ending it with a touchdown pass to tight end Roland Williams.

IT WASN'T RAIN: With about two minutes left, Vikings receiver Randy Moss protested for a pass-interference call. The officials disagreed. Moss took exception, walked to the sideline and sprayed one of them with water. The official hit him with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

BROKEN RECORDS: Along with their first playoff kickoff return for a touchdown (Horne nearly doubling Robert Delpino's previouslong return of 46 yards), the Rams broke 14 post-season records. Among them: Warner's 27 completions, 12 consecutive completions, 391 passing yards and five touchdowns.

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