NFL Playoffs

Weekly lineup

  Sunday, Jan. 16 12:30pm ET
Second-half Rampage buries Vikings

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- When the pregame explosions ended, the real fireworks began. It was just what St. Louis football fans waited so long for.

Isaac Bruce and Ed McDaniel
Isaac Bruce pulls away from Ed McDaniel for a 77-yard TD catch on the Rams' first play from scrimmage.
In the first home playoff game in the city's 33-season NFL history Sunday, the Rams showed their entire offensive repertoire in defeating the Minnesota Vikings 49-37. And they'll get to entertain their loud fans, whose noise level matched the Rams' supersonic offense, again in next Sunday's NFC title game against Tampa Bay.

League MVP Kurt Warner threw for five touchdowns and completed 11 of 12 passes in the third quarter, when the Rams scored 21 points. Trailing 17-14 at halftime, St. Louis scored 35 consecutive points before Minnesota responded with three late touchdowns.

"I don't think anybody can stop this offense," Warner said. "I haven't seen a defense do it so far.

"We said it would be on us today, and we would have to score points, because they can score. This team seems to thrive on those challenges, and this would be another one."

For half the game, at least, it was a challenge. But once Tony Horne ran back the second-half kickoff 95 yards, the first postseason touchdown on a kickoff return in Rams history, the rout was on.

"It was good timing," said Horne, who had two regular-season TDs on kickoff returns. "Every time we touch the field, we expect something good like that to happen. Everybody is looking for it to go to the house."

That gave St. Louis all the momentum it needed. Warner did much of the rest with short TD throws to Jeff Robinson, Ryan Tucker and Roland Williams as the Rams reached their highest point total in a playoff game.

Why the Rams won:
1. Speed, speed, speed. The Rams are so fast that it's nearly impossible for an opponent to keep up with them on artificial turf. Specifically, the speed advantage showed up on Isaac Bruce's 77-yard TD catch on the first play from scrimmage and Tony Horne's 95-yard kickoff return to open the second half.

2. Keeping cool. For a team with no playoff experience, St. Louis showed remarkable poise when it trailed 17-14 at halftime. The result was a 21-point third quarter and five consecutive second-half touchdowns that not only gave the Rams the lead, but turned what had been a shootout into a laugher.

3. Wonderful Warner. Given time to pick apart the Vikings, Kurt Warner was nearly flawless. The Rams QB used 10 different receivers and set a team playoff record by throwing five TD passes to five different receivers. He hit 27 of his 33 passes -- at least three of his incompletions were dropped and one was intercepted.

Why the Vikings lost:
1. They've fallen and can't get up. Once the Vikings fell behind on the opening kickoff of the third quarter, they fell to pieces. Minnesota had two fumbles and two drives that went three-and-out in the third period, opening the door for the Rams to really pour it on.

2. Running dry. Falling behind by so much so quickly forced the Vikings to abandon their running game in the second half. After running 24 times and controlling the clock in the first half, Minnesota had just five rushing attempts after halftime. That turned Minnesota into a one-dimensional offense and allowed the Rams' pass rush to tee off.

3. Defenseless. As usual, the Vikings' problems started on the defensive side of the ball. Minnesota got little pass rush on Warner, sacking him only twice. With time to find open receivers, Warner rendered the Vikes secondary helpless.

Game ball goes to:
Warner. In his first NFL playoff start, Warner looked like ... well, he looked like the NFL's MVP. He threw for 391 yards and five scores, and probably could have had more if St. Louis had needed it.

Up next:
The Rams will play host to the Bucs in the NFC Championship Game at 4:15 p.m. ET next Sunday.

Warner finished 27-for-33 and set team playoff records for yards passing (391) and TD throws.

"We have so many playmakers," Bruce said, "even on up to the offensive line. They give him time, and he is going to get it done."

Jeff George led a late scoring flurry for the Vikings that pushed the two teams to an NFL playoff record for gross yards passing. The 815 yards were six more than the previous record set in the 1981 San Diego-Miami overtime game, but with sacks added in, the total came to 763.

Early on, both sides were prolific, and in the second half, the Rams were simply unstoppable.

The Rams, who led the NFL with 526 points, got 14 almost without breaking a sweat, only to see the Vikings respond.

After Gary Anderson's 31-yard field goal concluded Minnesota's game-opening 60-yard drive, Warner struck immediately. Bruce broke free over the middle, and Warner hit him in stride at the 50. Bruce sped untouched on St. Louis' first offensive play for a 77-yard touchdown.

"Setting out the tone, like our offense did, and then continue the pounding," Bruce said.


The Rams' unrelenting attack kept at it after a Vikings punt. Bruce caught a 26-yarder on St. Louis' second offensive play, then Marshall Faulk slipped into the left flat for a short pass. The NFL's Offensive Player of the Year made three Vikings miss for a 41-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

"With the guys we have here, you throw them a 3-yard pass and they can turn it into something big," Warner said.

The Rams kept the pressure on defensively, too, getting four first-half sacks. But turnovers temporarily stopped the Rams.

Warner's bomb for Bruce was intercepted by Jimmy Hitchcock at the Vikings' 4. A 41-yard pass on third down to Jake Reed led to Cris Carter beating double coverage for a 22-yard scoring catch.

Dexter McCleon picked off George's poor pass later in the second quarter at the Minnesota 45. But Faulk couldn't grasp Warner's handoff on the next play, and Robert Griffith grabbed the fumble at the 48.

A 31-yarder to Randy Moss set up Leroy Hoard's 4-yard touchdown run. Instead of being blown out early, the Vikings were up 17-14 at halftime. And they held the ball for nearly 24 minutes.

"The whole first half, they weren't stopping us," said Warner, whose storybook season has taken him from the Arena League and NFL Europe to become the only quarterback other than Dan Marino with 40 TD passes in a season. "It was all things we did, and it was frustrating. We knew we could score every time if we just executed and didn't turn it over."

It took the Rams all of 18 seconds to move back on top. Horne broke up the middle, then cut to the left sideline and was untouched on his kickoff runback.

"That's just putting the momentum back in their favor," Moss said. "As soon as I saw that guy hit the sideline, I knew he was gone."

And so were the Vikings' chances, because St. Louis never let up.

The most points scored by both teams in an NFL playoff game with teams, score and season:

95: Philadelphia 58, Detroit 37, Dec. 30, 1995.

86: St. Louis 49, Minnesota 37, Jan. 16, 2000.

79: San Diego 41, Miami 38, OT, Jan. 2, 1982.

79: Buffalo 41, Houston 38, OT, Jan. 3, 1993.

78: Buffalo 44, Miami 34, Jan. 12, 1991.

Faulk had a 1-yard TD run. Jeff Wilkins missed a 42-yard field goal after St. Louis recovered Moe Williams' fumbled kickoff return at the Minnesota 32, but Faulk converted a short dumpoff into a 32-yard gain. Warner hit wide-open backup tight end Robinson for a 13-yard touchdown. That gave the Rams their average score at home, 35 points, but they weren't through.

A bad snap by Jeff Christy was recovered by defensive tackle D'Marco Farr at the 23. Warner threw to Tucker on a tackle-eligible play for a 1-yard TD that sent the St. Louis record crowd of 66,194 into a frenzy.

"That was the toughest offense I ever faced," Hitchcock said, shaking his head. "You have to be able to put out the fire, and we weren't able to."

The Vikings (11-7) scored three touchdowns in the last five minutes, making it the second-highest scoring playoff game in NFL history, behind only Philadelphia's 58-37 victory over Detroit in 1995.

George finished 29-for-50 for 424 yards and four touchdowns. His yards were was No. 3 in NFL playoff history behind Bernie Kosar (1986) with 489 and Dan Fouts (1981) with 433, both in overtime games.

St. Louis was playing its first playoff game at home after being without an NFL team for seven years until the Rams moved there from Los Angeles in 1995. The Cardinals left St. Louis after the 1987 season.

"The fans were on fire," receiver Az-Zahir Hakim said. "It was unbelievably loud. My ears are still ringing."

Game notes
Warner, who led the NFL with a 109.2 passer rating in the regular season, turned in a 142.99 on Sunday. The playoff record is a perfect 158.3 by Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw in 1976. Warner's five touchdown passes were one short of the league playoff record held by Daryle Lamonica of Oakland (1969) and Steve Young of San Francisco (1995). The previous team record was three by Bob Waterfield in 1950. Jim Everett held the previous team record for passing yards with 315 against the New York Giants in 1990. ... Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham, who lost his starting job in Week 6 to George, said he's not ready to retire. Last December, Cunningham signed a five-year, $28 million contract. ... The Rams ended a six-game losing streak against the Vikings, including one playoff game. ... Bruce arrived at the Trans World Dome without his ankle support sleeves. Team personnel retrieved them from Rams Park, about 20 miles west, and brought them to him about an hour before gametime. Bruce's 77-yard catch was the second-longest in team playoff history, trailing only Glenn Davis' 82-yarder at Cleveland Dec. 24, 1950. ... Injured Rams free safety Keith Lyle, who has missed eight games with a bruised nerve in his left shoulder and neck area, was one of the four team captains for the coin toss. After the game, Lyle said he definitely would play in the NFC Championship Game next Sunday. ... The Rams' previous playoff record for points was 35 against the St. Louis Cardinals Dec. 27, 1975, a 35-23 victory. ... George's four touchdown passes set a team playoff record. He tied the mark last week with three against Dallas. In 12 starts counting the playoffs, George threw 28 touchdown passes.


NFL Scoreboard

Minnesota Clubhouse

St. Louis Clubhouse

'Counter-punch' Vikings knocked out

Rams find Horne of plenty

Vikings (11-6) at Rams (13-3)

 Marshall Faulk talks about the explosive Rams' offense.
avi: 887 k
RealVideo: 56.6 | ISDN | T1

 Dick Vermeil talks about his first playoff win since 1981.
RealVideo:  | 28.8

 Kurt Warner discusses the game tempo.
wav: 134 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Randy Moss says losing is becoming far too common.
wav: 82 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Dick Vermeil says Kurt Warner is special.
wav: 73 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6