ATLANTA -- Mike Jones knew.
He had no good reason to know, but somehow he knew.
|Mike Jones grabbed Kevin Dyson and held on in one of the game's most pivotal plays.|
What he knew was that Kevin Dyson was too far away from the end zone to save the Tennessee Titans from their impending doom. What he knew was that the only thing keeping the St. Louis Rams from being tied in Super Bowl XXXIV was himself, and he had complete confidence in himself.
"I knew he was about two yards away from the end zone," said the Rams linebacker who preserved St. Louis' first-ever football championship. "I knew the only way he was getting in was if I missed the tackle, and I wasn't missing any tackle."
The Titans had come back from a 16-0 deficit to tie the score, gave up a 73-yard kick-in-the-gut touchdown to Isaac Bruce, then marched back up the Georgia Dome field and came within 10 yards, six seconds and one play from cheating fate again. Steve McNair, the Tennessee
quarterback who lurched between ghastly and sublime until the final quarter, had one play to make history, and he chose Dyson on the quick slant from the right.
The slant has become the money play of choice for offenses since Jerry Rice was a freshman at Mississippi Valley State, and when executed properly, it can remove money from the vault before the defense can be alarmed.
That was the plan here. One play, one slant for glory. Dyson was open, caught the ball at the 3-yard line and burst forward for ...
... well, for a step. Jones, the former Oakland Raider who struggled to find his place in the NFL firmament until this year, hit Dyson solidly at the Rams' 2, slid down to his legs and held fast as the receiver fell in sections. The last of those sections was his right arm, which reached out with the ball toward the end zone, but was still a good foot short.
"When you're an offensive player, you dream of making the touchdown run, or throwing the winning score," Jones said. "Defensive guys think of maybe making an interception for a touchdown, or forcing a fumble to win the game. You never really think about making the tackle at the goal line. But that's the way it happened."
Until Jones' play, though, the Titans looked as though they would force overtime. Other than the long touchdown to Bruce, Tennessee had dominated the last 20 minutes of what had been for the longest time a borderline dreadful game. The Titans drove fitfully but persistently from their own 12-yard-line with 1:54 left and only one timeout remaining. The decision to throw short of the goal line and have Dyson make the play, though, was pivotal, perhaps even misguided.
"When he (Jones) got his hands on me, I thought I was going to break the tackle," Dyson said. "But he got my foot, tripped me up and wrapped up nice. That's what he's supposed to do. That's his job."
Mike Jones did his job. He did the job of 53 players, a coaching staff and an entire city that, on the football field, has known only richly merited ridicule.
It is still early too decide whether the Rams are a great team, but they won an exciting Super Bowl with a great play. If that isn't enough, then you can never know the satisfaction Mike Jones knows now.
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Examiner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.