By R.B. Fallstrom
AP SPORTS WRITER
09/10/2006

Jeff Wilkins kicked a franchise-record six field goals, and the new-look St. Louis Rams defense made them stick.

The Rams' aggressive schemes helped force five turnovers in an 18-10 victory over the Broncos on Sunday, clinched when Denver quarterback Jake Plummer threw his third interception.

Scott Linehan's NFL coaching debut was a success, but much of it was owed to Jim Haslett, the new St. Louis defensive coordinator who was the New Orleans Saints head coach the previous six seasons.

Defense ruled for both sides in a game that bore no resemblance to the last time the Rams and Broncos opened the season, a 41-36 shootout won by St. Louis in 2000. The only touchdown was a 1-yard run by Denver's Mike Bell in the second quarter.


Linehan was hired by the Rams after his success reviving the Dolphins' offense last season, and helped the Vikings rank at the top of the league three straight seasons before that. His attack mostly sputtered in the opener, though, with quarterback Marc Bulger looking shaky at times and the Rams mostly settling for short gains.

Linehan scoffed when the Rams' first-string offense scored no touchdowns in 11 preseason possessions. In the opener they were 0-for-11 again, including the end of the game when they killed the clock at the Denver 6.

Wilkins, who tied his career best of six field goals with the ***** in 1996, hit two long field goals, from 51 and 48 yards, and also connected from 26, 38, 29 and 24 yards. In the process, he became the first Rams player to score 1,000 points.

In the fourth quarter, Will Witherspoon tipped Jake Plummer's pass intended for Stephen Alexander into the arms of Fakhir Brown, and Brown's 20-yard return gave the Rams possession at their own 40 with 2:26 left.

Rookie Tye Hill, the Rams' first-round pick, and Corey Chavous also had interceptions. Leonard Little had two of St. Louis' four sacks, forcing a Plummer fumble that ended up giving the Rams the ball at the Denver 3.

The Broncos defense kept it from becoming a blowout, holding the Rams to only six points off three consecutive takeaways in the first half. St. Louis ran 23 straight plays in Denver territory at one point, but the offense kept stalling.

St. Louis held a slim 12-7 lead at halftime. Wilkins missed a 44-yarder on a fifth attempt in the half.

The Broncos' lone highlight came in the second quarter when coach Mike Shanahan, trailing 12-0 and frustrated by a lack of production, elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 31. Mike Bell got 2 yards and the Broncos ended with an 11-play drive capped by Bell's 1-yard scoring run with 26 seconds to go in the half.