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Rams confident turnovers won't doom season

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

ATLANTA -- Kurt Warner can't explain why the St. Louis Rams keep giving the ball away. Maybe another trip to the Georgia Dome will halt that ugly trend.

"When we're on top of our game, these things don't happen," the Rams quarterback said. "We're not as consistent as we've been in the past."

On Sunday, St. Louis (8-2) meets the surprising Atlanta Falcons (6-4), who have won three in a row to become a playoff contender for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 1998.

Warner and his teammates played recklessly in a 24-17 loss to Tampa Bay on Monday night. The Rams lost three of four fumbles, then Warner threw interceptions on the last two possessions.

St. Louis is tied with San Francisco for the NFC West lead, with the Falcons lingering two games back.

Though the Rams lead the NFL with 32 turnovers -- 20 in the last four games -- they have enjoyed their recent trips to the Georgia Dome. St. Louis blew out the Falcons in 1999 and 2000 and won a Super Bowl in between in the building.

Warner has completed 49 of 84 passes for 961 yards, six touchdowns and one interception in three career games in Atlanta.

Also, the Rams have won six straight regular-season road games.

"We've done a good job on the road for whatever reason," Warner said. "Maybe we're more relaxed."

Still, those turnovers are a nagging concern.

"I just think we have to be very conscious of it in game-type situations," Warner said. "When we get into a crowd and feel guys around us, just squeeze the ball, and when I'm throwing it, make good decisions and not give the defense a chance to make a play."

The resurgent Falcons have won four of five, including a victory at Green Bay and last week's 10-7 triumph over Carolina. They have done a better job protecting the ball, ranking third in the NFC with a plus-7 turnover differential.

The defense was strong against the Panthers, stopping them on four straight plays at the 1 in the second quarter. On Carolina's final possession, quarterback Chris Weinke's sneak on fourth-and-inches was stuffed by Keith Brooking, Patrick Kerney and Chris Draft.

Brooking leads the team with 72 tackles from his middle linebacker position, while defensive end Kerney is tied for fourth in the league in sacks with 9.5.

"We're making plays when we need to make them," Brooking said. "Any time you do that, it breeds confidence, and that's what you're seeing in us -- a defense that's starting to believe in itself."

The Atlanta defense, though, remains susceptible to big plays, not a good sign against the dynamic Rams.

Opponents have combined for 11 runs covering 20 or more yards and 28 passes of at least 20 yards. The Falcons, who ranked last in the NFL in passing defense much of the season, are still only 28th with a net average of 232.9 yards per game.

Atlanta is strong at cornerback with Ashley Ambrose, who has three interceptions in two games, and Ray Buchanan, leading the league with 25 pickoffs since the start of 1997.

"Right now, they're playing with some great, great confidence at cornerback," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "It will be fun to watch these matchups."

The Falcons, though, are in terrible shape in the other secondary positions. Strong safety Gerald McBurrows is likely to miss his second straight game with a sore knee. Free safety Ronnie Bradford had to leave the Carolina game with pain in the same knee that required arthroscopic surgery Oct. 23.

Chris Hudson, who backs up Bradford, is listed as questionable with an ailing knee. Johndale Carty, who replaced McBurrows, made an interception to end the Carolina game, but has only six tackles the last two weeks.

"There's no question they'll have more pressure put on them against St. Louis than any team that we'll play, because they are wide open all the time," Falcons coach Dan Reeves said. "We've got to do a good job of helping them out as far as keeping them on the sideline. They can't score if they're on the sideline."

The Rams ripped through the Falcons in the last four meetings, averaging 412.3 yards and 40.5 points. Running back Marshall Faulk has 767 total yards, including 572 rushing, and Torry Holt set an NFL record in last year's 41-20 win at the Georgia Dome with an average of 63 yards receiving on three catches.

Warner's numbers against the Falcons are staggering: 66-of-104 for 1,035 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

"We'd like to think if we play our best game, we should win," center Andy McCollum said. "We'll be able to fix the mistakes."


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