Rams come up short in opener
Monday, September 9, 2002
By John Marshall
The Associated Press
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos were a field goal away from replacing Brian Griese with Steve Beuerlein in the fourth quarter.
It's a good thing for the Broncos that St. Louis kicker Jeff Wilkins missed.
Griese threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns and led Denver on a 71-yard drive for the deciding score as the Broncos beat the Rams 23-16 Sunday.
Griese played a solid first half -- 10-of-16 for 110 yards -- but was booed after two interceptions and a fumble in the third quarter.
Beuerlein began warming up as Wilkins lined up for a tying field goal midway through the fourth, but was called back when the kick came up short.
"Well, thoughts went through my mind in the third quarter when we were a little flat," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "If they had kicked that field goal, I felt we would have needed a spark."
Shanahan left Griese in and he responded by hitting 4 of 4 passes for 56 yards on the winning drive. Griese capped it with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Ed McCaffrey that put the Broncos up 23-13 with just under six minutes left.
"I thought we had a bad quarter, and I didn't play very well in the third quarter," said Griese, who finished 18-of-27. "But at the same time, I think the mark of a good player and a good team is that you show the character to come back from adversity, because adversity is a part of the game."
Denver pressured Kurt Warner, held Marshall Faulk mostly in check, and played physically against St. Louis' receivers to end the Rams' nine-game winning streak on the road.
The Patriots used a similar tactic to beat the Rams in the Super Bowl.
"We watched tapes of the Super Bowl and saw New England really popping guys in the mouth," Broncos linebacker John Mobley said. "We saw that they didn't like that and knew it was something that we wanted to do."
Faulk, the league MVP in 2000, had a career-high 14 catches for 91 yards, but had just 19 yards rushing on 10 carries. He finished 1 yard short of becoming the ninth player in league history to eclipse 15,000 yards from scrimmage.
Warner was 32-of-41 for 315 yards, but didn't have a touchdown, was sacked three times and threw an interception.
"They did a great job up front," Warner said. "We just couldn't pick up some of their schemes. They wouldn't let us get a push. We'd get our momentum, but then get stopped."
The Rams struggled in the first half but got a break on the first play of the second when Grant Wistrom tipped a pass by Griese and Aeneas Williams intercepted it at the Broncos' 26-yard line.
Faulk scored three plays later on a 3-yard draw to cut Denver's lead to 16-13.
The Rams had the ball at Denver's 9-yard line late in the third quarter and could have easily tied it with a field goal, but failed on a fourth-and-1 attempt when Denver pressured Warner into an incompletion.
"We will be aggressive in our approach," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "Some may question it, but that's how I'm going to approach it."
The Rams had another chance to tie midway through the fourth, but Wilkins' 39-yard field goal attempt came up short when holder Ricky Proehl mishandled the snap.
Denver sealed it on the next drive when McCaffrey, who missed last season after breaking his leg in the season opener, made a diving catch near the 3 and slid into the end zone on his back.
The Broncos took a risk early in the drive by going for it on fourth-and-1 from their 38, but rookie Clinton Portis gained 15 yards on a misdirection play.
"That was unbelievable," Denver running back Olandis Gary said. "But with the speed Portis has, I'll take my chances."
Wilkins hit a 39-yard field goal with 2:12 left to cut the lead to 23-16, but Mike Anderson recovered the onside kick.
The Broncos moved 97 yards in 13 plays on their first drive, capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Rod Smith. Wistrom kept the drive alive when he was called for a penalty for running into Denver punter Tom Rouen.
Warner hit Ernie Conwell on a 43-yard pass on St. Louis' first play, but the Rams managed just 122 yards the rest of the half -- one rushing.
"I thought they took the fight out of us pretty good in the first half," Martz said.
A moment of silence was held before the game to honor the victims of Sept. 11.
Rams WR Eric Crouch, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, was inactive. He has been out three weeks with a deep thigh bruise.
Denver has won 11 of its last 14 openers. St. Louis had won four-straight openers.