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Rams in charge of NFC West
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams didn't take long to assert themselves.
On the third play of the game, Aeneas Williams intercepted Jeff Garcia's pass intended for Terrell Owens, setting up a touchdown and setting the tone for the Rams' 27-14 victory over San Francisco on Sunday.
"When we got that turnover early, I think we were able to create just a little doubt," Williams said. "It gave us an advantage in the end."
By game's end, there was no doubt who was in charge of the NFC West.
Marshall Faulk scored two touchdowns, Kurt Warner threw for two and the St. Louis defense dominated throughout in a matchup of division leaders. The victory, coupled with the Bears' loss at Green Bay, gave St. Louis the best record in the conference (10-2).
"Obviously, it puts us where we want to be," Warner said. "It puts us in the driver's seat in our division."
Faulk ran for a 6-yard score in the first quarter, and his 3-yard touchdown catch put the Rams ahead 21-7 at the half en route to a season sweep of the 49ers (9-3). Faulk, who has scored five touchdowns the last two weeks, had 88 yards on 25 carries and five catches for 19 yards.
Warner was 26-for-42 for 294 yards and one interception, also hitting Ricky Proehl for a 15-yard score in the first quarter. Warner's 16th interception of the season was his first in two weeks as the Rams, who committed 13 turnovers in their two losses, continued to cut down on mistakes.
Rams control series
The Rams have beaten the 49ers six straight times following a 17-game winning streak by San Francisco in the series. They also took a step toward re-establishing home-field advantage in the Dome at America's Center, where they had lost five of their previous nine.
The 49ers won eight of their previous nine, a huge stride for a team coming off a 6-10 season. But they didn't get a first down until the second quarter and were held to 220 yards as Garcia had his second tough day against the Rams.
"If that's a battle for first place, they proved that they're the first-place team and we're the second-place team right now," coach Steve Mariucci said. "We've got a ways to go to catch up."
Garcia, who entered the game leading the NFC in passer rating, was 13-for-36 for 146 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. In the second week of the season against the Rams, he was 19-for-34 for 121 yards with one touchdown, an interception and a 61.0 passer rating in a 30-26 loss.
"I never really caught on," Garcia said. "No matter what we seemed to try to do, they were on top of it."
Williams got both of the interceptions. The second pickoff led to a 39-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins that put the Rams ahead 27-7 with 9:47 to go.
The 49ers' first score came on a 1-yard run by Garrison Hearst with 7:59 left in the second quarter, cutting the Rams' lead to 14-7. Hearst was held to 39 yards on 11 carries,
Trailing 27-7, the 49ers attempted to make things interesting as Garcia scored on a 1-yard run with 4:42 left. But San Francisco could get no closer.
The Rams' defense overcame three big mistakes. Zack Bronson's interception of a scrambling Warner ended up with a punt six plays later, and the 49ers went three-and-out after Wilkins kicked off out of bounds in the third quarter.
A fumble after a catch by Az-Zahir Hakim gave the 49ers, trailing 27-14, one last chance with 3:37 to go. But the 49ers went nowhere in four plays.
The Rams went at the 49ers with a more conservative attack than usual, often running on first down and holding gadget plays to a minimum. They scored on drives of 12, 11 and nine plays.
But coach Mike Martz also was bold at times, twice going for it on fourth down on the Rams' first scoring drive. The second time, Warner faked disgust under center and walked away as Faulk took a direct snap and ran for the first down.
"Obviously, we made good use of it at a good time," Warner said. "I guess I did enough to lull them to sleep."