Rams stingy defense helps blank Falcons

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 14, 2003

ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Rams had just put up 36 points on the Atlanta Falcons. That wasn't the number everyone was talking about.

Instead, the focus for both teams was on the zero the Rams allowed the Falcons on Monday night. The 36-0 rout was the Rams' first shutout in two years and their first at home since they played in Anaheim in 1993.

''Give credit to the defense,'' said Torry Holt, who had 161 yards on 11 receptions and two touchdowns. ''A goose egg!''

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Added coach Mike Martz: ''A shutout is so difficult to do in the NFL and the progress of this defense is truly amazing. The young corners continue to make plays, we're getting pressure up front and excellent linebacker play. I'm very proud of our defense.''

Atlanta quarterback Doug Johnson was very impressed by that defense, which allowed a mere 209 yards; got two takeaways from veteran Aeneas Williams; saw Travis Fisher go 74 yards with an interception for a touchdown; and had Larry Little and a bunch of other defenders swarm T.J. Duckett in the end zone for a safety.

''They beat our butts,'' Johnson said. ''I wouldn't want someone to take credit away from me if I whipped somebody's butt.''

The beating began early.

Williams, playing free safety this year for the first time after a stellar career as a cornerback, picked off Johnson's ill-advised first-quarter pass in the end zone. Then he knocked the ball free from tight end Alge Crumpler and recovered the fumble in the second period.

Both turnovers set up long drives for points as St. Louis took a 10-0 halftime lead.

''That was the emphasis tonight.'' Williams said after his 52nd career pickoff, second among active players to Oakland's Rod Woodson. ''In our meetings, coach Lovie (Smith) would start yelling, 'Interceptions, interceptions.' Even when I would go home, I'd open my refrigerator and hear coach Lovie saying, 'Interceptions, interceptions,' and have to close it right away.''

The Rams closed out the Falcons right away, too.

Marc Bulger threw for 352 yards and ran for a score, and Lamar Gordon had a career-high 92 yards rushing, but it was the defense that drew the most praise.

St. Louis (3-2) won its ninth straight home game and handed the Falcons (1-5) their first shutout defeat since 1993. In a span of four plays in the third quarter, the Rams had three sacks. They never allowed Atlanta, ranked 27th in total offense, to threaten to get coach Dan Reeves his 200th career victory.

''We got beat in all areas,'' Reeves said. ''There's no doubt they were the better team.''

The Falcons have lost five in a row and desperately need a healthy Michael Vick. But the Rams have injuries, too, most notably star running back Marshall Faulk, and they didn't miss a step Monday night.

In fact, they even converted some trickery.

After Bulger hit Isaac Bruce for 16 yards on a third down, and Gordon had a 20-yard run, Bruce, on a reverse, threw perfectly to Holt for 25 yards to the Atlanta 29 - the second completion of the wide receiver's 10-year career.

''Well, if Marc goes down, then Ike, he'll step in and be our quarterback,'' Holt joked. ''He'll be our third-string quarterback behind Kurt (Warner).

''And we might put something in next week where I'll be throwing the ball.''

Not much need for that if Bulger is so on-target.

''I really didn't feel like I played an NFL game tonight,'' Bulger said. ''I hardly got hit. I thought we were going to get 40 or 50.''

Holt caught a 21-yard TD pass early in the third quarter and had a 14-yarder with 10:44 remaining. In the last two games, he has 23 catches for 294 yards.

''We're just in a real good rhythm,'' Holt said.

He could have meant the defense, as well.