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1 Yard Short

One yard shy

Rams find firepower, hold Titans off to win 23-16

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Posted: Monday January 31, 2000 04:29 PM

  Isaac Bruce Isaac Bruce finished as the Rams' top receiver, with 162 yards on six catches. AP

ATLANTA (AP) -- A game of yards came down to inches for the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.

The result was a victory for Kurt Warner, Dick Vermeil and the Rams that six months ago seemed no more than a dream after a 4-12 season.

Warner's 73-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce with 1 minute, 54 seconds left accounted for the winning score, 16 seconds after Al Del Greco's field goal brought Tennessee back from a 16-0 deficit.

But it was Mike Jones' tackle of Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line on the game's final play that finally gave St. Louis its win in one of the most thrilling Super Bowl finishes ever.

CNN/SI at the Sugar Bowl

Even after the Rams failed to score a touchdown in the first half, MVP Kurt Warner believed he could find a way. (741 K)

Rams DE Carter explains the defensive strategy designed to contain Titans' McNair. (1.85 M)

Rams WR Isaac Bruce describes his game-winning catch. (53 K)

Steve McNair says the Titans couldn't take advantage of opportunities. (195K)

Rams coach Dick Vermeil passes the credit on to his players. (180 K)

Eddie George says the Titans can use the loss for inspiration next season. (242 K)

Kevin Dyson says the defeat is hard to swallow. (81 K)

Postgame reflections

  • Super Bowl XXXIV Galleries

    Rams' fortunes hinged on game's final play
    Mike Jones' tackle of Kevin Dyson on the 1-yard line as time expired preserved St. Louis' thrilling 23-16 win.


    Titans did (almost) everything right on Bruce's touchdown catch
    Free safety Anthony Dorestt overran the play, allowing Isaac Bruce to cut inside him and dash 73 yards for the game-winning touchdown.



    Kurt Warner, QB, St. Louis
    The deadly accurate Warner capped his unthinkable trip from Arena Bowl to NFL MVP by setting the Super Bowl passing record (414 yards), including the game-winning 73-yard bomb to Isaac Bruce with 1:54 left.

    Denard Walker, CB, Tennessee
    On the Rams' first play after Tennessee tied it at 16-16, Walker was the defender burned on Bruce's big catch down the right sideline, failing to turn around and look for the ball until it was too late.
  • MVP: Warner's dream season
  • Locker Room: Rams' Holt comes up big
  • Locker Room: Titans vow to remember
  • Eddie George: Not enough
  • Wilkins' boots: Kicking the pain
    What was most damaging to the Titans?
    Al Del Greco's missed FG
    Blaine Bishop's injury
    Going for 2 down 16-6
    Isaac Bruce's 73-yard TD
    Kevin Dyson downed at the 1

    View Results

    Dyson was left sprawled on the ground in Jones' arms, stretching the ball toward the goal line in vain. So, a team known for its high-powered offense won its first Super Bowl with the most memorable of defensive plays.

    Warner passed for a Super Bowl record 414 yards and was voted MVP, capping a season that began with him fighting for a backup job and ended with him as the NFL's MVP.

    "Kurt Warner is Kurt Warner and it's not a fairy tale," coach Vermeil said. "He is a book. He is a movie."

    Added Warner: "You may think of this as a Hollywood story, but it's just my life."

    But he almost had to rewrite the script after the Titans scored on three straight drives to tie the score at 16.

    Tennessee's comeback was engineered by Steve McNair and Eddie George. But it was Dyson who almost pulled off his second miracle finish in four weeks, coming up just short of the tying touchdown after taking a look-in pass from McNair at the 5 and scrambling for the end zone.

    "I thought we could do it but we came up about 6 inches from having a chance to do it," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "As much as this hurts we have an awful lot of pride in coming so close."

    Dyson was the man at the end of the "Music City Miracle," the 22-16 win over Buffalo in a wild-card game, taking a lateral from Frank Wycheck and returning it 75 yards for the winning touchdown with three seconds left.

    "I thought he was going to get in," McNair said. "But you've got great athletes on both sides of the ball and they made the play. It was a matter of who won the one-on-one battle, and they won it."

    Jones said: "The name of the game is to get the man on the ground. They won the wild-card game with a big play and we knew they'd come roaring back. We just made the big play at the end. You get tired chasing Steve McNair and making plays."

    It was the first NFL title for the Rams since 1951 and the first football title ever for St. Louis, which lost the Cardinals after the 1987 season and gained the Rams from Los Angeles in 1995.

    It not only capped an improbable season for the team but also for Warner, who played in the Arena League and NFL Europe and was left unprotected in the expansion draft last spring. He got the starting job when free agent Trent Green was hurt and went on to win the NFL MVP and throw 41 touchdown passes, only the second quarterback in NFL history to surpass 40.

    It was also a triumph for the 63-year-old Vermeil, who was out of football for 14 years before joining the Rams in 1997. He had lost the Super Bowl in 1981 in Philadelphia.

    Kurt Warner threw for a Super Bowl record 414 yards, including the winning touchdown to Isaac Bruce. Doug Pensinger/Allsport  

    "You know I'm an emotional guy, but right now I feel so good and so proud of this football team," Vermeil said.

    The Rams couldn't quite break open the game while opening up a 16-0 lead. Three straight times they had to settle for field goals by Jeff Wilkins of 29, 27 and 28 yards. Wilkins missed another field goal and another was aborted by a fumbled snap.

    So even though Warner threw for 277 yards in the first half and the Rams outgained the Titans 294-89, it was only 9-0 at intermission.

    "We had some problems in the red zone," said Marshall Faulk, who was held to 17 yards on 10 carries but had five catches for 90 yards. "They played us tough but we came away with field goals."

    The Rams seemed to put it away when Warner hit Torry Holt with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 3:59 left in the third quarter.

      Click on the image for a larger version.

    Two plays earlier, the Titans, already without free safety Marcus Robertson and top receiver Yancey Thigpen, lost strong safety Blaine Bishop with a neck sprain that delayed the game for about 10 minutes while was taken off.

    But suddenly, McNair and George got energized and the Rams' defense began to wear down.

    The Titans scored touchdowns on their next two possessions as George, who ran for 95 yards on 28 carries, scored twice on 1-yard runs. Tennessee's 2-point conversion attempt failed after the first TD.

    Al Del Greco tied the game on a 43-yard field goal with 2:12 left.

    McNair completed nine straight passes during the final drive, and threw for 214 yards in the game and scrambled for a Super Bowl-record 64 more. That included a 23-yard run that set up the first score and a 12-yard scramble with a 15-yard face mask penalty added in the final rally.

    "He left everything out there on the field," Fisher said. "I told him we will be back. Don't ever forget this moment because we will be back. We will be back because he has the heart of a champion."

    But it wasn't enough.

    On the first play after Del Greco's tying field goal, Warner went deep to Bruce, who outleaped Tennessee's Denard Walker at the 38, then cut back twice to score. The play was called by offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who will take over as coach when Vermeil retires.

    "He said 'Let's take a shot. Let's go to Isaac,'" Vermeil said. "If we didn't make it, we'd try to get it on the next two downs."

    Bruce said: "We had been getting field goals. We needed to get the ball in the end zone."

    That still left the Titans with 1:54 and one time out. They worked the ball methodically down the field with two big plays -- 27 yards on McNair's scramble and the ensuing penalty and a 16-yard pass to Dyson to put the ball on the 10 with five seconds left.

    Then the Titans called their final time out.

    The final play was a slant. Dyson grabbed the ball and lunged for the end zone with Jones grabbing him by the ankles. He went down less than a yard from the goal, trying to get his hand with the ball in it over the goal line.

    "When he got his hands on me I thought I'd break the tackle but he slid down to my foot like you're supposed to and made a great play," Dyson said. "I realized as soon as I stretched out and was going down that I didn't get the point of the ball over the goal line."

    That was a huge relief for the Rams.

    "When I saw that ball go in the air, I said 'It's a touchdown,'" Vermeil said. "I was ready to call coach Martz and tell him to get the script ready for overtime."

    Instead they wrote a script for a celebration.

    Anyone have a timeout?

    Early timeout comes back to burn Titans

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    Posted: Monday January 31, 2000 03:07 AM

      A day late and a dollar short: The Rams Jeff Zgonina (90) signals that Kevin Dyson did not make it into the end zone. Al Bello/Allsport

    By John Donovan and
    Ryan Hunt,

    ATLANTA -- Kevin Dyson was stretching for the end zone Sunday, the last seconds on an improbable season ticking down.

    If only the Tennessee Titans would have had one more timeout. If only they hadn't burned one earlier in the fourth quarter.

    They might be the Super Bowl champs today.

    "I don't want to say it hurt us," Titans quarterback Steve McNair said. "But we could have used it."

    The Titans' last-ditch effort to tie the score in the final second of Super Bowl XXXIV fell short partly because they had gone through all their timeouts. They used one with 8:33 left in the game to avoid a delay-of-game penalty, and that could have made the difference in the game.

    Instead, Dyson caught a 9-yard pass from McNair with seconds left, was tackled on the St. Louis Rams' 1-yard line and the Rams won the game 23-16.

    McNair decided to take the second timeout when the formation that was called in over the speakers in his helmet turned out to be wrong. By the time the formation was corrected, there wasn't enough time to get off the play, and McNair didn't want to take the delay of game.

    The timeout helped hugely at the time. The Titans ran the same play after the timeout, with the right formation, and McNair connected with tight end Jackie Harris for a 21-yard gain to the Rams' 3-yard line. That set up Eddie George's second touchdown.

    The Titans used their final timeout in the last, just-short drive, setting up the final do-or-go home play to Dyson.

    "You don't want to take a delay of game in that situation. We were in a groove," tight end Frank Wycheck said of the earlier play. "You have to play it as the game plays out. That one just worked out that way."

    But if they'd have had another one ...

    Revenge is sweet

    Does it really matter who you beat in the Super Bowl? To the St. Louis Rams it did.

    After losing to Tennessee 24-21 in Week 8 of the regular season, the Rams had a little payback on their minds.

    "It sure is sweeter this way," Rams center Mike Gruttadauria said. "They've proven they could beat good teams like they did with Jacksonville thrice and like they did with us. It was in the back of our minds that they were coming in thinking 'We've beat this team and we can do it again.'"

    Bishop OK

    Titans safety Blaine Bishop rejoined his team at the Georgia Dome on Sunday after X-rays on his neck proved to be negative.

    Bishop, the Titans' starting strong safety, was injured early in the third quarter while making a hit on Rams' safety Ernie Conwell. He jammed his neck into Conwell's lower body and lost feeling for awhile in his extremities. He was carted off the field after at least a 15-minute delay.

    He was X-rayed at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta and is expected to fly back to Nashville with the Titans on Monday.

    Sure thing

    Az-zahir Hakim insists he wasn't trying to be like Joe Namath when he made his guarantee of a Rams' victory earlier this week.

    "I knew that this team had it in them," said Hakim, who had one catch for 17 yards. "That's all I was trying to say. I was confident in the abilities of this team and we proved way today."

    Stopping the Freak

    Rookie defensive lineman Jevon Kearse got a talking-to at halftime from some of his teammates, who he said expected more of him in a rather lackluster first half.

    "They know how much a difference-maker I can be," Kearse said. "I guess they were just reminding me I'm a big part of the defense."

    Lineman Kenny Holmes and Josh Evans were two of the players exhorting Kearse to turn it on in the second half. He did, too, knocking down two passes in the second half and pressuring St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner numerous times.

    "A guy like Josh Evans," Kearse said, "you look at him and see that fire in his eyes ..."

    Freak out

    Fred Miller couldn't go many places this week without hearing Kearse's name. After committing six false starts lined up opposite "The Freak," who could blame Miller if he woke up in a cold sweat thinking of facing Kearse again?

    But Sunday, Miller got the best of Kearse. No sweat.

    Miller and the Rams held the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in check, holding him to only four tackles and, most importantly, no sacks.

    "It definitely was a little vindication," Miller said. "But the main focus was to win the football game. If I would would have went out a had a great game, it wouldn't have meant nothing. I'm more excited about winning the game than a personal battle."

    Kearse did get pressure on the Rams' go-ahead touchdown bomb to Isaac Bruce, missing Kurt Warner by nanoseconds.

    "No one is going to remember the pressure that came on the touchdown," Miller said. "They're just going to remember the touchdown.

    Quick strike

    In many ways, it's amazing that the Titans came as close to tying the score in the final seconds of the game as they did.

    The run-oriented Titans have not been known as a quick-strike offense.

    "We felt like, with 1:57 left [actually 1:54], we had a chance to score," quarterback Steve McNair said. "It [scoring quickly] is in our repertoire. We just don't show it."

    Praising Warner

    Though many Titans characterized the game-winning pass from Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce as lucky -- Warner was being pressure by Kearse and actually underthrew the pass -- there was nothing but praise for the QB from nowhere who became league MVP and MVP of this Super Bowl.

    "Kurt Warner showed how tough he is," defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. "He got pounded, he got hit and he kept getting up to make some plays.

    "He's no fluke."

    Warner threw for a Super Bowl record 414 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, becoming the sixth player in NFL history to grab both regular-season and Super Bowl MVP awards.

    The bottom lines

    Sunday's game marked the first time in Eddie George's career that he ran the ball at least 27 times and the Titans did not win. Tennessee was 15-0 when George reached that many carries. Sunday, he ran 28 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns ... McNair ran for 64 yards, setting a Super Bowl record for QBs ... The game marked only the second Super Bowl without a turnover. The Rams had two fumbles and the Titans one, but the fumbling team recovered all of them.