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Super Bowl Update: Pats must run to win

Eleven years ago, heading into Super Bowl XXV, the plodding New York Giants won the NFC Championship game in San Francisco and jetted immediately across the country to Tampa to take on the high-octane Buffalo Bills offense run by Jim Kelly's K-Gun.

That Super Bowl was played amidst Middle East unrest created by the Gulf War, and heightened security was obvious to then-Giants assistant coach Bill Belichick, who recalls snipers on the roof of the hotel.

The Giants trampled their way to the title game behind aging running back Ottis Anderson and backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler, who had taken over for an injured Phil Simms late in the season.

In the Super Bowl, the Giants imposed their will on the favored Bills and used a strong ground attack with a safe passing game, to control the football for a Super Bowl record 40:33.

With that strategy, New York limited the Bills no-huddle offense and held on to win 20-19 when Scott Norwood's 47-yard field goal sailed wide right.

With Belichick now at his fourth Super Bowl and first as a head coach, he might tap into that 1990 experience to try to knock down the high-powered and heavily favored St. Louis Rams. There are similarities.

First off, the teams only had one week to prepare after winning the conference championship games on the road.

Secondly, this year's Super Bowl is being played under tight security because of the threat of terrorism created by the Sept. 11 bombings just as Super Bowl XXV was.

Third off, Both the 1990 Giants and the 2001 Patriots lost their starting quarterbacks to injury and rode into the Super Bowl on the shoulders of players who began the season in backup roles.

Finally, the Patriots come in as a physical team against an offensive powerhouse, also similar to the Bills-Giants matchup.

So what does New England need to do?

Well holding the ball for 40 minutes would be a nice place to start. That is easier said than done, however.

The Rams have the NFC's top-ranked defense and the NFL's third-ranked group. Lovie Smith's impressive unit allows only 86 rushing yards per game. If the Patriots rush for that many or fewer, it's a good bet that the Rams will win their second title in three years.

But keep in mind that one of the reasons St. Louis allows so few rushing yards is its ability to jump out in front early and force opposing offenses to become one dimensional and abandon the running game. That's not to take anything away from a defensive line that may be underrated, but the offense takes the heat off the defense. The Patriots will need to come out and play the way the 1990 Giants did.

Back in that game, if Buffalo held the ball for half the game, it would have likely won going away. It seems such a simple concept and the Rams know that is how teams try to beat them. St. Louis stuffs the run early, gets a team down and then never has to worry about being pounded throughout the second half. That is why the first 30 minutes are important for New England. They must stay close heading into the locker room.

In fact, in the Rams games that were close, St. Louis allowed more rushing yards than the 86 on average it surrendered for the season. San Francisco ran for 116 in a 30-26 loss. The Giants ground out 97 in a 15-14 defeat. The Jets piled up 132 in a 34-14 loss. The Saints had 93 in a comeback win over St. Louis. Tampa Bay racked up 97 in a 24-17 win.

The Patriots will have to exceed those numbers to have a chance. Their ground game has sputtered in the playoffs and really hasn't performed up to snuff since the late-season win over the Dolphins. But that is the Patriots task Sunday and the Rams know it. Everyone knows it. That means the Patriots offensive line must come to play as physical a game as it has all season.

"We feel good," center Damien Woody said about the offensive line. "The key is that we've been working together all season where as the past couple of years, we have been shuffling in and out."

That continuity helped Antowain Smith run for 1,157 yards.

"Basically, we have to stop the run," Rams defensive end Leonard Little said. "They have a great running back and he had a great year. We have to stop the run and force them into passing situations."

When Tampa Bay knocked off the Rams on the St. Louis turf, it held the ball for 35:02 and held on to win 24-17. But in the first New England-St. Louis meeting, the Patriots ran for only 51 yards and held the ball for just 26:06.

With a better time of possession margin, the Patriots can indeed shock the world. Belichick stressed all week that New England needs to play it's own style if it has a chance to win. That style will include pounding the Rams in the trenches. St. Louis knows its coming. If they stop it, they will win. If they don't, the unthinkable could send them home without the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

At this point, nothing the Patriots accomplish is surprising.

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