Rams grab playoff spot

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

By Tom Withers ~ The Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- The St. Louis Rams are going back to the NFC playoffs, and their high-potent offense didn't have very much to do with it.

Aeneas Williams had two interceptions -- the first for a 46-yard touchdown -- in the final 1:04 of the first half as the Rams clinched a postseason berth, holding on for a 26-20 win Monday night over the Cleveland Browns.

Williams' two picks enabled the Rams (10-3) to score 14 points in a 42-second span at the end of the first half, giving St. Louis a 23-7 lead.

Jeff Wilkins kicked four field goals -- 26, 28, 29 and 37 yards -- for the Rams, who won their fifth straight game and advanced to the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

But they had to withstand a valiant comeback by the Browns (4-9), who were making their first regular-season appearance on "Monday Night Football" since 1995.

Quarterback Tim Couch rallied Cleveland, but was stripped of the ball by Rams defensive end Brian Young on fourth down with 1:51 left, and St. Louis ran out the clock.

Marshall Faulk rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth straight game, picking up 102 yards on 24 carries.

Couch went 6-for-9 for 98 yards and threw a 28-yard TD pass to Quincy Morgan after replacing Kelly Holcomb.

Holcomb, who threw a 2-yard TD pass in the first quarter, was benched with 17 seconds left in the first half after throwing the two interceptions to Williams.

The Browns, who have been ravaged by injuries all season, also lost defensive end Courtney Brown (arm), running back James Jackson (knee) and guard Chad Beasley (ankle) to injuries.

But Cleveland didn't quit, and twice had the ball down 26-20 in the final minutes. Couch, though, couldn't bring the Browns all the way back and they dropped their fourth straight.

Young's strip sealed it for St. Louis' underappreciated defense, which recorded five sacks and forced four turnovers.

The Rams' offense failed to get into the end zone in the first half, relying on three field goals by Wilkins to take a 9-7 lead before Williams bailed St. Louis out.

The 35-year-old cornerback stepped in front of a Holcomb pass intended for Quincy Morgan and took it back for his ninth career interception return for a TD and his 12th return for a score -- one shy of the career record for defensive TDs held by Oakland's Rod Woodson.

Two plays later, Williams again picked off Holcomb, bringing it back to the Browns' 20.

Marc Bulger then hit Isaac Bruce with a 16-yard scoring pass as the Rams scored 14 points in a span of 42 seconds to blow it open, forcing Browns coach Butch Davis to replace Holcomb with Couch for the final 17 seconds of the half.

Bulger finished 22-of-36 for 223 yards.

Wilkins' kicks of 28, 26 and 29 yards came after the Rams' offense failed to get into the end zone despite running 11 plays inside Cleveland's 20-yard line.

Wilkins' third field goal gave the Rams a 9-7 lead with 1:52 left in the half.

Holcomb, who went 10-of-17 for 80 yards before being benched for the second straight week, threw a 2-yard TD pass to tight end Keith Heinrich to give the Browns a 7-3 lead after the first quarter.

Trailing 3-0, the Browns drove 72 yards in seven plays with Holcomb hitting a wide open Heinrich in the back of the end zone with 4:13 remaining.

Heinrich's catch was set up by running back Jamel White's 22-yard run on 3rd-and-2 to the Rams' 2.

St. Louis rookie linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa aided the Browns by getting a 15-yard penalty for roughing Holcomb on the first play of the drive.

The Rams took a 3-0 lead on Wilkins' 28-yard kick, which came three plays after he ran for a first down on a fake field goal.

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