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Patience pays off for Rams

High-powered offense was slowed, but pounced when it got a chance.

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By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2000


ST. LOUIS -- The Rams took what the Bucs gave them. For more than 55 minutes, the Bucs gave them fits. The Rams expected that. Then the Bucs gave them just what they needed.

It was a blitz by free safety Damien Robinson, hoping to either sack Kurt Warner and push the Rams out of field-goal range, or at least force an incompletion that would force a field goal from 47 yards. But Warner beat it with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl.

"They kept mixing things up," Warner said after the Rams' 11-6 victory Sunday in the NFC Championship. "We didn't know when they were going to blitz. We called timeout and talked about a short route or deep route. We were expecting them to blitz, they gave us exactly what we expected and (Proehl) gave us a great play."

"They ran a defense right into our protection and we were able to pick it up" said Mike Gruttadauria, the Rams' center from Tarpon Springs High and Central Florida. "I saw the ball in the air. I was watching it. It felt like it had helium in it. It took forever to come down.

"Then I saw Ricky with his hands in the air and he had beaten the cornerback (Brian Kelly) and I saw him catch it and all I was thinking was, "Please, God, let his feet be inbounds.' ... When I saw the ref's arms go up I just took off for the end zone."

Cornerback Todd Lyght called the catch "totally money."

"He is the clutch receiver that comes up with so many big catches. ... It will go down as one of the greatest catches in the history of St. Louis football."

Proehl, a 10-year veteran out of Wake Forest, said his role this season was to make the catches to move the chains and get first downs. "We have so many superstars," he said, "Isaac (Bruce) and Marshall (Faulk) and Kurt and Torry (Holt) and all.

"Ten years playing in this league and watching other clubs celebrate ... " he said. "I was just numb. It was a great feeling, living the dream I've been dreaming since I came in the league."

The key to the game, tackle Orlando Pace said, was patience.

"Hey, we were playing the best defensive team we've played all year," he said, "We couldn't do the things we wanted, but we knew the longer it went on the better we'd have a shot at the big play."

London Fletcher, the Rams' voluble linebacker, also said it was just a matter of time.

"From the start of the game (the Bucs) came out talking so much stuff, but finally their offensive line wore out," he said. "We knew they'd be excited in the beginning of the game but that they'd eventually burn out."

The mood in the locker room at halftime was businesslike, Bruce said.

"We didn't stop believing we could win this game, any more than last week (when the Rams rallied from a 17-14 deficit to beat the Vikings)," he said. "We put (the Bucs) in situations where they could have come up with touchdowns in the red areas. Our defense won us the game."

Bruce added that the Rams should have won the game by a lot more than they did.

"They got us to play their game; it shouldn't have been anywhere near this close," he said.

And Pace summed it up: "It's a W. We'll take it no matter how we get it because it gets us to the Super Bowl. I would've taken it if it'd been 2-1."

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