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Rams Get Late Score, Final Tackle to Win, 23-16

 Kurt Warner, the Super Bowl's MVP, connected with Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard touchdown with 1:54 remaining to give the Rams their first Super Bowl title. (Morry Gash - Associated Press)
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, Jan. 31, 2000; Page D1

ATLANTA, Jan. 30 – Two teams that practically no one thought would be here when the season began produced one of the most memorable finishes in Super Bowl history. The St. Louis Rams survived by the narrowest of margins, holding on to beat the Tennessee Titans, 23-16, when linebacker Mike Jones tackled wide receiver Kevin Dyson inches shy of the goal line and a tying touchdown as time expired.

It was an evening of football theater at its best. The Titans overcame a 16-point, third-quarter deficit to tie the game with just over two minutes remaining. But the Rams reclaimed the lead with 1 minute 54 seconds left on a 73-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kurt Warner to wide receiver Isaac Bruce.

"We knew it would be tough," said Rams Coach Dick Vermeil, who got his first Super Bowl victory 19 years after he made his first Super Bowl coaching appearance with the Philadelphia Eagles. "World championship games are supposed to be tough, hard-fought football games, and I think we showed America what the Super Bowl is supposed to be about."

A game filled with passion and drama played before a crowd of 72,625 at the Georgia Dome will be remembered for its final play.

Said Titans Coach Jeff Fisher: "We made our minds up at halftime we were going to win the game. We came within six inches of getting it done."

Tennessee was at the Rams 10-yard line with six seconds to go, and quarterback Steve McNair fired a completion to Dyson. But Jones made the tackle at the 1, and Dyson's attempt to reach out and get the ball over the goal line failed to set off a jubilant on-field celebration by the Rams.

"You dream of making an interception or fumble recovery or sack, not necessarily making a tackle to win the game," Jones said. "I was in position to make a play, and fortunately I made it. I knew I was at the 2- or 3-yard line, and the only way he could get in was if I missed the tackle."

Dyson said: "He just made a great play. I thought I was going to get in there. I didn't think he had a good grip on me, and I stretched out, but I was just short."

 Kevin Dyson is tackled short of the goal line by St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones on the game's final play. (Associated Press)
The Rams held a 9-0 lead after a first half in which they moved the ball easily behind Warner's passing but had to settle for three field goals by place kicker Jeff Wilkins. St. Louis made it 16-0 midway through the third quarter on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Warner to rookie wide receiver Torry Holt, just after the Titans were jolted by watching safety Blaine Bishop being carted off the field with a neck injury. X-rays taken later were negative, and Bishop had movement in his arms and legs and rejoined the team tonight.

Tennessee made a gritty comeback behind running back Eddie George and McNair. George provided a pair of touchdown runs, and Al Del Greco's 43-yard field goal with 2:12 to go tied the game at 16.

Then the Rams showed why they were the league's most feared offensive team all season. They got the ball back at their 27 with 2:05 to play and needed only one play to get into the end zone. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz had wanted to take a shot deep on the Rams' previous possession and got the go-ahead from Vermeil this time. Warner's deep throw for Bruce was short. But Bruce outmaneuvered cornerback Denard Walker to come back and make the catch, then weaved his way around three Tennessee defenders to get into the end zone.

"The guy covering me never saw the ball," Bruce said. "He fell on his face, and fortunately I was able to finish the play."

Said Warner: "We knew we needed a big play. Isaac is a big-play guy, and he came up with the big play for us."

McNair took the Titans back down the field, getting them to the 10 with a breathtaking scramble that led to a 16-yard completion to Dyson. That set up the furious final sequence following a Titans timeout.

"I thought he was going to get in," McNair said. "We did what it takes to get in position to score. We just came up short."

Said George: "Our guys gave their all, and we came up one yard short."

Warner capped his dream season by completing 24 of 45 throws for 414 yards, a Super Bowl record. He was named the game's most valuable player.

Vermeil spoke to President Clinton by telephone before beginning his postgame news conference and told Clinton: "I'll tell you this, Mr. President, this football team is what America is all about."

The Rams moved from their 31 to the Tennessee 17 on their opening possession but came up empty. Wilkins lined up for a 35-yard field goal attempt but never got to try the kick. Holder Mike Horan, the St. Louis punter, dropped the snap and was tackled after he got up and tried to run with the ball.

The Titans got a 32-yard romp by George on a screen pass and moved to the St. Louis 29 on their first drive. But Tennessee stalled, and Del Greco sent a 47-yard field goal attempt wide left.

The Rams cranked it up from there. Warner connected with Holt on a deep slant pattern for 32 yards and slipped the ball to running back Marshall Faulk while under pressure for a 17-yard gain to the Tennessee 14. But Faulk found little running room, managing only five yards on two carries. Warner's third-down pass for Az-zahir Hakim was incomplete, but Wilkins connected for a 3-0 lead 12 minutes into the game.

St. Louis safety Billy Jenkins blitzed McNair into a third-down incompletion on Tennessee's next possession, and the Rams slipped into a familiar pattern. Faulk took a second-down swing pass from Warner and found no Tennessee defenders in front of him, racing 52 yards down the sideline before being shoved out of bounds by Walker at the Titans 17. But a fumble recovered by Warner and two incompletions frustrated the Rams once more, and Wilkins's 34-yard field goal try sailed wide right.

The Tennessee offense stalled near midfield, and Jenkins tipped but couldn't quite block Craig Hentrich's punt. Warner completed his first six passes of the Rams' ensuing drive but still, St. Louis could not get into the end zone. Wilkins's 29-yarder made it a 6-0 game 4:16 before the intermission.

The Titans' offense went three plays and out, and Warner went back to work. He hit Holt on the sideline for 16 yards on third and 13, and stepped up in the pocket to find Holt for 18 yards on second and 17. He threw for Bruce for 15 yards and to Hakim for 17.

A holding penalty on guard Tom Nutten pushed St. Louis back, but defensive end Jevon Kearse's facemask penalty while tackling Warner gave the Rams a first and goal at the 10. No matter. Three incompletions later, Wilkins was kicking a 28-yarder 15 seconds before the intermission.

The Titans took the opening kickoff of the second half and moved to the Rams 29. But George dropped a swing pass on third down, and Del Greco's 46-yard field goal try was blocked by the Rams' Todd Lyght.

 Cocah Dick Vermeil, right, hugs quarterback Kurt Warner after the Rams beat the Titans, 23-16. (Dave Martin - Associated Press)
The Rams moved down the field yet again, aided by a 31-yard strike from Warner to Bruce. On third and goal from the 9, the Rams broke through. Holt ran a slant pattern and Warner delivered a strike, and Wilkins's extra point made it 16-0 with 7:20 left in the third quarter.

The Titans didn't wilt, though. They gathered themselves and crafted a 12-play, 66-yard touchdown drive that chewed up 7:06. McNair did what he did best, finding a seam in the middle of the St. Louis defense for a 23-yard gain on a scramble to the Rams 2. It was the longest run by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. George needed two tries to get into the end zone, but bulled over the goal line from the 1 on second down to get Tennessee on the scoreboard. The Titans tried a two-point conversion, but failed when McNair's throw was wide of open tight end Frank Wycheck.

The Tennessee defense held the Rams without a first down, and the Titans went 79 yards in 13 plays and 7:15 to get to 16-13. Fisher went for a first down on fourth and inches from the Titans 43 with 11½ minutes remaining. McNair got the first down on a quarterback sneak. A screen pass to tight end Jackie Harris got the Titans 21 yards to the Rams 3. George got to the 1, then bulled his way over defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina at the goal line for a second-effort touchdown with 7:21 to play.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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