St. Louis defeats Saints, 34-21
By Dave Goldberg
|St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk is wrapped up by New Orleans linebacker Keith Mitchell during the first half. The game was interrupted in the fourth quarter when fans threw debris onto the field after a penalty against the Saints.
In a game halted briefly by fans throwing debris, the Rams clinched a playoff spot by beating New Orleans, 34-21, last night, the first step on what they hope is a trip back here for the NFL's title game Feb. 3.
Warner threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns, three to Isaac Bruce and the other to Marshall Faulk. Grant Wistrom led the defense with three sacks and an interception.
"I think this was a big challenge to him after the game in St. Louis where he had the interceptions," coach Mike Martz said of Warner, who threw four interceptions in a 34-31 loss to the Saints Oct. 28.
"He was upset with the whole situation. I think Kurt had something to prove in this game."
A day after a game in Cleveland had to be stopped for a half-hour because of rowdy fans, this one was interrupted briefly by fans throwing objects on the field after a pass interference call against the Saints with 9:39 left in the game.
"I think that was unacceptable what they did," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "There's no reason to do that."
There were 13 arrests for offenses ranging from drunk and disorderly to battery. Fifteen other people were ejected in the disturbance, which was quickly quelled by security personnel as the public address announcer said: "This is New Orleans. We are sportsmen."
The win by St. Louis (11-2) also kept the Rams a game ahead of Chicago in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs and clinched a postseason berth for San Francisco. The 49ers, a game behind, still have an outside chance of catching the Rams in the NFC West, but St. Louis' two wins over San Francisco gives the Rams the tiebreaker.
The Saints (7-6) remain in contention for a wild card spot, with a key game coming up in Tampa next week against the Bucs.
St. Louis won despite a myriad of mistakes.
The Rams lost two fumbles, increasing their league-leading giveaway total to 37. One set up a Saints touchdown and the other prevented a score by the Rams.
St. Louis also squandered all its timeouts in the first and third quarters, two on replay challenges that failed.
But the Saints also hurt themselves they had 16 penalties for 132 yards. And they failed on an onside kick in the first quarter and a fake field goal in the second.
"Every time we got something started, we'd get a penalty," Haslett said. "You can't put yourself in those positions against a team like that."
New Orleans, which won three of its previous four games with St. Louis, opened the scoring with a 4-yard TD pass from Aaron Brooks to fullback Terrelle Smith.
But the Saints' attempt at an onside kick was touched before it went 10 yards.
"You've got to kick it," Haslett said. "You've got to get it to the 40-yard-line. It doesn't work if you only get it to the 38."
The Rams led 21-14 at the half, taking the lead on a 4-yard pass from Warner to Faulk with 28 seconds left.
Warner, who finished 23-of-32, teamed with Bruce on a 6-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, an 11-yard scoring strike in the second and a 40-yard touchdown pass in the third.