Warner, Rams show new colors in opener

Tuesday, September 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The Super Bowl champions have a new head coach, new color scheme and a new blocking front. But don't be fooled – it's the same old St. Louis Rams.

As long as Kurt Warner is taking the snaps, it doesn't matter who's coaching the Rams, what colors they wear or who does the blocking. It doesn't matter if the Rams play indoors or out, day or night. Offense still wins for the Rams – and there is no better offensive player in the game today than Warner.

The 1999 NFL MVP displayed his marvelous playmaking ability once again Monday night as St. Louis began defense of its Super Bowl championship with a 41-36 victory over the Denver Broncos.

Warner displayed his skills as a passer by throwing for a career-high 441 yards and three touchdowns. Then he displayed his skills as a leader by marching the Rams 75 yards in eight plays in the closing minutes for the winning touchdown.

"Kurt is unbelievable," said Rams coach Mike Martz, the team's offensive coordinator a year ago who was promoted to head coach this season after Dick Vermeil retired.

The Rams had trailed at home only six times in 10 games all of last season. But Denver jumped in front of St. Louis on four different occasions in the 2000 season opener, the final time on a 32-yard interception return by Terrell Buckley with 6:35 remaining. It was Warner's third interception of the night, and Martz took the blame for calling the play.

"It was a bad call, a terrible call," he said.

But Warner wasn't looking to place blame. He was looking to win a football game. He took the field needing 40 yards to move the Rams into field-goal range. But typical Warner; he delivered the touchdown.

Warner completed passes of 11 and 22 yards to Ricky Proehl and 15 yards to Robert Holcombe. Marshall Faulk chipped in a 30-yard run to the Denver 1-yard line, and Holcombe plowed in for the game's final score on the next play with 2:58 remaining. That gave the Rams their 12th consecutive home victory dating to the 1998 season.

Warner also threw for touchdowns on three consecutive passes over a 12-minute span at the end of the second quarter and start of the third, lifting the Rams from a 17-14 deficit into a 35-20 lead.

Warner tossed a seven-yard touchdown pass to Proehl to give the Rams a 21-17 lead with 38 seconds left in the first half. His next pass in the third quarter was even shorter – but the run much, much longer.

Reading a blitz, Warner threw a quick pass parallel to the line of scrimmage to Faulk in the right flat, and Faulk sprinted 72 yards for a touchdown. That made it 28-20.

On the next possession, after two fruitless St. Louis runs, Warner hit Az-Zahir Hakim on a quick out. Martz isolated Hakim in coverage against a safety, and when Billy Jenkins over-committed to the outside, Hakim took the reception back inside 80 yards for his second score and a 35-20 lead.

Jenkins should have known better. He started in the St. Louis secondary in the Super Bowl but was traded to the Broncos in the off-season.

The game was a flashback to Warner's Arena League days with, almost 1,000 yards total offense.

The Rams, who scrapped the yellow trim in their uniforms this season for a flashier gold, tied a club record with three 100-yard receivers. Hakim caught five passes for 116 yards, Holt six for 103 and Faulk four for 100.

Warner, playing with two new starters on his offensive line, completed 25 of 35 passes in the first Monday night game for the Rams since 1991 and the first for the city of St. Louis since 1986.