Eagles 10, Rams 3
Almost 30 minutes after the final gun had sounded, Kurt Warner sat on a stool at his locker stall in the cold, silent visitors dressing room at Veterans Stadium. He was still in full uniform, his hand cradling his head, a picture of pure dejection over what had transpired during the previous three chilling hours.
This was the day the defending NFC champion St. Louis Rams, now 5-7, finally had to admit they have no chance to make the playoffs. The Philadelphia Eagles picked at the carcass of this former juggernaut, keeping the Rams out of the end zone and harassing Warner into one of the worst days of his professional career.
The Eagles prevailed, 10-3, scoring their only touchdown on a 23-yard interception return by cornerback Bobby Taylor on a pass Warner usually completes with his eyes closed. But today, it became even more obvious his right hand -- specifically a very sore palm incurred last week against the Redskins and a pinkie that was surgically repaired six weeks ago -- is still causing him significant problems, despite his denials afterward.
"Not at all," he insisted with a wan smile when someone asked if his hand bothered him today in the face of temperatures in the mid-thirties, a 25-mph breeze and a relentless Philadelphia defense. The Eagles had eight sacks, caused Warner to fumble three times and intercepted him twice on a day when his passer rating was 43.6. He completed 20 of his 42 throws for 218 yards and seemed to have problems gripping the ball all day.
"You don't want to take anything away from him, but he looked a little jittery. He didn't look like himself," said Eagles defensive end Ndukwe Kalu, a former Washington Redskin who sacked Warner four times today. "Maybe he has an injury he's not telling someone about. Maybe he's one of those tough guys who keeps it to himself."
Another Ram also played hurt today. But the presence of running back Marshall Faulk, returning after missing three games because of an ankle injury, could not prevent the banged-up Rams from losing their second straight game after a five-game winning streak. Faulk entered the fray late in the first quarter and admitted he was tentative, not knowing how his body would respond. The result was a subpar 52 yards total offense by a man who often has that many in a quarter.
Rams Coach Mike Martz chose not to start Faulk but said he kept him on the field once he entered because "we're trying to win, we're trying to win, we're trying to win."
The Eagles were trying to win any way possible, especially after starting No. 3 quarterback A.J. Feeley, whose greatest contribution today was not making a costly mistake. As a result, Philadelphia soared to 9-3. With four games remaining, they have a three-game lead on the New York Giants (6-6) in the NFC East.
The Eagles are holding out hope by the time the playoffs begin next month, injured starting quarterback Donovan McNabb (broken foot) will be available to lead their march to a Super Bowl title. If not, they know veteran reserve Koy Detmer, who suffered a dislocated elbow last week, will definitely be available in the next two weeks.
Today's triumph before 65,552 at the creaky Vet surely eased some of the sting over the Eagles' loss to the Rams in last season's NFC championship game. "We've gotten into a great rivalry with these guys," Eagles Coach Andy Reid said. "It's been knock-down, drag-out brawls, and that's what is was today."
Another former Redskin, place kicker David Akers, made a 31-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter to provide all the points Philadelphia needed.
The Rams had all manner of chances to get back in the game, but with a patchwork offensive line playing without Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace (hamstring pull on the third series), St. Louis simply couldn't protect Warner long enough.
And the Rams receivers, used to having their own way in the comfy confines of their home dome, dropped at least a half dozen passes, looking as if they wanted no part of the punishment Eagles defenders were prepared to mete out.
Taylor's touchdown interception came on a quick slant pass intended for Rams wide receiver Ricky Proehl. Taylor jumped into the pass route, and Warner admitted afterward he never saw the Eagles cornerback.
"It was one of those things where I got a little pressure from the side and stepped up," Warner said. "When I did, I kind of got blocked off in that area, and I thought the defender had dropped back just with the way Ricky was coming in there. With the speed he had . . . I felt like there was a hole in there so I tried to put it on him. After I threw it, I saw Taylor make his break."
Feeley, who had not started a game since his junior year at Oregon, where he was backed up Lions rookie Joey Harrington, did just enough to keep his team on the field and Warner and the Rams' offense off it. He completed 14 of his 30 attempts for 181 yards, totals that would have been better if a number of balls hadn't been dropped. But his most important contribution was no interceptions.