DATE: Sunday, February 3, 2002
SITE: Superdome (72,000) - Turf
TIME: 6:00 p.m. EST
TELEVISON: This week's game will be broadcast nationally on FOX (locally on WFXT Channel 25 in Boston). Pat Summerall will provide the play-by-play detail and will be joined by broadcast partner John Madden. Ron Pittswill report from the sidelines.
RADIO: WBCN's Rock Radio Network 104.1 FM. Gil Santos, now in his 25th season as voice of the Patriots, will call the action along with Gino Cappelletti. The tandem is enjoying their 18th season together. For a complete listing of all local affiliates, please see page 23. The game will also be broadcast nationally on CBS/Westwood One Radio. Howard David and Boomer Esiason will broadcast the game. James Lofton and John Dockery will report from the sidelines.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are a total surprise. But why is it that every time New England manages to shock the world with an AFC title, they run into a dominant team? Why are there never upsets in the NFC playoffs? The 1985 Bears were dominant. The 1996 Packers were close to dominant and the 2001 Rams ... sorry, but dominant.
This year's Rams went 14-2 in the regular season and turned the ball over 14 times in those two losses. Despite those giveaways, they lost by three to New Orleans and by seven to Tampa Bay.
"They're the one team that I've ever seen in the history of this league that can turn the ball over like they have and win," former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Jim Mora said. "Their margin for error is so much bigger than other teams."
Consider that the Rams finished the regular season with a minus-10 turnover ratio and led the league with 44 turnovers, but won more games than any team in football. They did that because they have more offensive speed and talent than any team in recent history.
With quarterback Kurt Warner's lightning quick release and the speed in his receiving arsenal, the Rams offense is more prolific than any the NFL has seen. With Warner throwing to the likes of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim, Marshall Faulk and Ricky Proehl, the Rams piled up more than 500 points (503) for an NFL record third consecutive year. In that three-year span, the Rams scored a record 1,569 points.
Perhaps the best thing about the team is the unselfishness of its weapons. They all get a piece of the action and realize what they are capable of.
"Everybody has a chance to make money, everybody has an opportunity to put up big numbers and win MVPs, but we have an opportunity to win championships and when you win championships, everybody gets their attention," Holt said. "We feel like if we come in and work together and keep the unity and camaraderie up to par, we have an opportunity to win a lot of ballgames and that's what we've done over the past three years."
The Rams defense is drawing its share of attention, especially after its eight takeaways in the playoff win over Green Bay, but this offense still totes the team's true firepower.
Warner's 4,830 passing yards this season was the second most in history behind Dan Marino's 5,084 in 1984. He also threw 36 touchdown passes, which isn't all that difficult when Holt, Bruce and the rest of the speed burners are dusting the coverage. He also captured his second league MVP award in three years despite 22 interceptions.
The one MVP over that span that didn't go to Warner went to his teammate, Faulk, the versatile do-it-all running back. Faulk ran for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns while hauling in a team-high 83 passes for 765 yards and nine touchdowns. In his last five regular season games, Faulk carried 122 times (of his 260 total attempts) for 650 yards, including 202, 118 and 168 yards in the last three games, respectively, when he also rushed for six touchdowns.
While he was similarly versatile and talented, he never made this type of impact when he was with the struggling Colts. And while it would be moronic to attribute his success to others, it is clear that he has benefited from a terrific supporting cast that keeps defenses running all over the field trying to disrupt and keep everything covered, which is impossible against this team.
You have to pick your poison on every play and hope you guess right most of the time. The Rams don't worry about what a defense is trying to do, they just run their stuff and bet you can't stop it.
Holt and Bruce average 16.8 and 17.3 yards per catch, respectively, on their 145 combined receptions for 2,469 yards and 13 touchdowns. Their fourth, fifth and sixth leading receivers -- Proehl, Hakim and tight end Ernie Conwell combined for 117 receptions for 1,368 yards and 12 touchdowns.
To put that in perspective, consider that the Patriots second, third and fourth leading receivers -- David Patten, Kevin Faulk and Marc Edwards -- caught 106 passes for 1,104 yards and eight touchdowns.
If the Patriots are to shock the world again, they will have to cover like they've never covered and pressure like they've never pressured. But destiny is on their side and they haven't won eight in a row by accident. They won in Pittsburgh with Lady Destiny on the sideline. Don't doubt Lady Destiny.