Rams get hit by a semi
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Jan. 16 2005

ATLANTA - Back in the day, circa 1999 through 2001, the Rams used to win most
track meets like this. But on Saturday in the Georgia Dome, it was the Atlanta
Falcons who had the sizzle, as well as most of the speed.

Try as they might, the Rams simply couldn't keep up. Michael Vick & Co. ran
roughshod over St. Louis 47-17 in an NFC semifinal playoff game. With emphasis
on the word "ran."

Running back Warrick Dunn rushed for a Falcons postseason record 142 yards, not
to mention two touchdowns. Vick added 119 yards from his quarterback position,
on only eight carries. Throw in 66 yards by T.J. Duckett, and it all added up
to an astounding 327 yards rushing by Atlanta, just 11 shy of an opponent
playoff record against the Rams.

The total was within shouting distance of the league postseason record of 382
yards rushing by the Chicago Bears (against Washington) in 1940.

"What can I say?" Rams safety Antuan Edwards said. "To a man, every person in
this locker room is a little stunned. We are sick right now."

Throwing only 17 passes, including one by Dunn to Vick, Atlanta scorched the
Rams on the ground and on special teams. As such, Saturday's NFC semifinal game
was a classic case of the more things change ...

Two longstanding Rams problems, run defense and special teams, caught up with
them in a big way. Afterward, Rams coach Mike Martz had no ready answers for
the meltdown on run defense.

"I don't know what happened with it," he said. "I didn't expect that. To be
honest with you, I don't know why."

And just when it seemed like the Rams were intent on making this a shootout,
along came Falcons punt returner Allen Rossum to run rings around the St. Louis
punt coverage unit.

Rossum set an NFL postseason record with 152 yards on just three returns,
including a back-breaking, 68-yard touchdown with 59 seconds remaining in the
first half. That play gave the Falcons a 28-14 lead, and they maintained a
double-digit lead the rest of the evening.

So much for the Rams' late-season surge, a three-game winning streak that took
them two steps shy of the Super Bowl. It ended with a big thud at the Georgia
Dome. After squeaking into the playoffs, the Rams became the first 8-8 team to
win a playoff game, last week in Seattle. But they're now done for the winter
at 9-9, including the playoffs.

"Our goal was to win the Super Bowl," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "We won one
playoff game. Big deal."

By early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons led 40-17 against the Rams, who
played without star wide receiver Isaac Bruce - a pregame scratch because of a
stomach and groin muscle injury.

A couple of hours before the game, Bruce tried to go full speed on the Georgia
Dome turf. "And he just couldn't do it," Martz said. "So there's no sense in
asking him to do that. He wouldn't have lasted very long. He could tear a
muscle. It's not the right thing to do."

It didn't take long for the Michael Vick Experience to get untracked. Three
plays, exactly. After taking the opening kickoff, Atlanta faced a third and 2
from its 32. Vick rolled to his left, then cut back sharply to his right. There
was nobody home on the backside by the overpursuing St. Louis defense.

Off went Vick. Forty-seven yards later, he was chased out of bounds by Edwards
at the Rams 21. Two plays later, the Falcons were in the end zone on an 18-yard
pass from Vick to tight end Alge Crumpler.

But the Vick Experience quickly turned into the Warrick Dunn Show. On Atlanta's
second possession, Dunn raced 62 yards through the middle of the line for a TD
- the longest rushing play in Falcons postseason history. Rams linebackers
Robert Thomas and Pisa Tinoisamoa, plus safety Adam Archuleta, overpursued and
got caught inside.

Dunn wasn't done. In fact, he was just getting started. Five minutes into the
second quarter, he raced 19 yards off right tackle for his second TD. Again,
there was no outside contain by the Rams, and Archuleta - who took a bad angle
to the ball - missed a diving tackle.

The Rams did their best to trade touchdowns but couldn't keep up. Kevin Curtis
caught a 57-yard TD pass from Bulger on the Rams' first possession to tie the
score 7-7. Curtis started in place of Bruce.

With 5 1/2 minutes left in the first half, Bulger found Torry Holt wide open in
the end zone for a 28-yard TD pass. The score narrowed Atlanta's lead to seven
points at 21-14.

But that was the high point for St. Louis. A key sequence occurred when Vick
lost a fumble on a scramble, with Tommy Polley recovering on the Rams 18 with
2:19 to go in the opening half. But the Falcons stacked up Steven Jackson for
no gain on third and 1, forcing the Rams to punt.

It was now time for the Allen Rossum Experience. Rossum took a relatively low
Kevin Stemke punt and raced 68 yards for his TD. It was the first punt return
for a TD in Atlanta playoff history.

The tricky Falcons actually had three return men deep, with Rossum in the
middle. After fielding the punt, Rossum faked a toss to his right, freezing the
St. Louis coverage unit for a split second. Rossum, who finished second in the
NFL in punt returns in the regular season with a 12.4-yard average, did the
rest.

That play gave Atlanta a 28-14 lead, but the Rams closed the gap when Jeff
Wilkins hit a 55-yard field as time expired in the first half, making the score
28-17.

By halftime, Dunn had 126 yards rushing, and Atlanta had 239 rushing yards
overall. Both were team records for an entire game.

"Whether it was Warrick Dunn slipping in here or there, or Vick with the
bootleg, we worked against it all week," defensive end Leonard Little said.
"But we just couldn't stop them. Ain't no science to it. We just couldn't stop
it."