Rams beat playoff-bound 49ers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 31, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Long gone from postseason contention, the St. Louis Rams showed one last time what made them NFC champions just a year ago.

Dre' Bly returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown and the Rams scored 28 fourth-quarter points to go out as winners, beating the playoff-bound San Francisco 49ers 31-20 Monday night.

Bly stripped Garrison Hearst after a screen pass for the first scoring return all season by the Rams (7-9).

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The NFC West champion 49ers (10-6) played a game of keep-away in the first half, taking a 17-0 lead as they tuned up for next week's wild-card playoff game against the New York Giants. Jeff Chandler's 45-yard field goal with 13:43 made it 20-3.

Then the Rams rallied against a 49ers defense largely populated by second-teamers.

Jamie Martin, who didn't start because of a bruised left knee that kept him out of three practices last week, hit Brandon Manumaleuna for a 6-yard touchdown pass and Isaac Bruce for a 26-yarder that cut the gap to three points with 7:09 to go.

On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Bly put them over the top.

Hearst's fumble with 2:51 to go at the St. Louis 49, finished off the 49ers. Martin, who was 22-for-35 for 245 yards and a career-best three touchdowns, tacked on a 32-yard scoring pass to Ernie Conwell with 1:53 remaining.

Jeff Garcia opened the game by directing the NFL's longest drive of the year in terms of elapsed time as the 49ers chewed up 12:07 on a 20-play, 81-yard march capped by a 19-yard Chandler field goal. Seldom-used backup quarterback Tim Rattay then took over, throwing touchdown passes of 2 and 27 yards to Tai Streets for a 17-0 halftime lead.