Warner leads Rams to Super Bowl win
With a yard to spare, Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams completed a magical season.
Warner capped the season the same way he started it -- bombing away at a helpless defense -- and the Rams barely held on for a 23-16 victory over the tenacious Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.
In the most thrilling Super Bowl finish of all time, the Rams' first NFL championship since 1951 was preserved by linebacker Mike Jones, who on the game's final play tackled Titans receiver Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line.
Warner, plucked off the scrap heaps of the Arena League and NFL Europe, added Super Bowl Most Valuable Player to his improbable regular season MVP award. He completed 24-of-45 passes for a record 414 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead strike with 1:54 to play.
Seconds after the Titans had roared back from a 16-0 deficit to tie the game on Eddie George's second touchdown run, Warner took a hit from Jevon "The Freak" Kearse and found Isaac Bruce up the right sideline. Bruce stopped to make the catch, then sped past cornerback Denard Walker and a handful of defenders to complete a 73-yard scoring play.
On the first scrimmage play of the postseason, Warner and Bruce hooked up on a 77-yard TD pass against the Minnesota Vikings, re-establishing a tone St. Louis had set all season with its quick-strike offense.
As they did all through the postseason, the Titans (16-4) never quit. Led by the legs and arm of Steve McNair and helped by 25 yards in penalties, Tennessee marched 78 yards in nine plays.
While Warner displayed his classic dropback skills, McNair also showed what makes him different. On 3rd-and-5 from the Rams 27, he scrambled out of the pocket, twisted out of a sack attempt and threw a strike to Dyson to the 10.
The Titans spent their final timeout with six seconds to go, setting up the last play and perhaps the first overtime in the history of the Super Bowl. McNair hit Dyson on a slant inside the 5, but the 6-1, 240-pound Jones wrapped up the receiver's ankles and held on.
Warner became the sixth player to win regular-season and Super Bowl MVP honors in the same campaign. He was the Rams' backup until Trent Green tore knee ligaments in the final preseason game.
Bruce had six catches for 162 yards, Torry Holt added seven for 109 and running back Marshall Faulk five for 90. Faulk, who set an NFL record for scrimmage yards this season, was held to 17 yards on 10 carries.
McNair was 22-of-36 for 214 yards. He was more effective as a runner, amassing a quarterback-record 64 yards on eight rushes. George added 95 yards on 28 carries. Tight ends Jackie Harris and Frank Wycheck combined for 12 catches for 99 yards.
It was just the second Super Bowl without a turnover and almost a complete reversal of the teams' regular-season meeting. On October 31, Tennessee raced to a 21-0 lead and held on for a 24-21 victory as St. Louis missed a late field goal.
Jones' title-saving tackle made a winner of Dick Vermeil, who came out of retirement three years ago and nearly didn't make it here. He went 9-23 in his first two seasons and many players complained about his style.
The Rams (16-3) entered this season as the losingest team of the 1990s but ran roughshod over the NFL with a 13-3 mark and 526 points, the third-highest total in league history. They would have had plenty more today if not for repeated breakdowns in the red zone, settling for three first-half field goals while dominating the line of scrimmage.
Warner, who threw for a record 277 yards in the first half, finally got the Rams into the end zone with a nine-yard strike to Holt midway through the third quarter. The score came two plays after Titans safety Blaine Bishop was carted off with a neck injury suffered while making a tackle.
Although it was the most unlikely time for a momentum swing, the Titans made it happen. The running of George and McNair led to George's one-yard TD run with 14 seconds left in the quarter.
George added another TD run between a pair of punts by the Rams and a 43-yard field goal by Al Del Greco -- who earlier missed from 49 and had one blocked -- tied the game with 2:12 to play.
In the first half, St. Louis did not punt. Sore-legged Jeff Wilkins booted field goals of 27, 29 and 28 yards and two other drives ended in a botched hold by Mike Horan and Wilkins' miss from 34.
Warner was 19-of-35, connecting with seven different receivers. Meanwhile, McNair was just 5-of-14 and George was limited to 18 yards.
The Rams made their only Super Bowl appearance 20 years ago, losing to Pittsburgh when the franchise was in Los Angeles. Owner Georgia Frontiere moved the team to St. Louis in 1995.
The last of the six original AFL teams to reach the Super Bowl, the Titans also are a displaced franchise, moving from Houston in 1996. Still known as the Oilers, they played in Memphis in 1997 and Nashville in 1998 before changing their nickname and moving into Adelphia Coliseum for this season.
With the help of the "Music City Miracle" -- a touchdown off a lateral on a kickoff thet stunned Buffalo in the finals seconds of their first playoff game -- the Titans became the sixth wild card to reach the Super Bowl. Just two have won.
Vermeil guided the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XV, where they lost to Oakland. He resigned two years later, introducing the term "burnout" into the coaching vernacular. He is the fourth coach to take two teams to the Super Bowl.