St. Louis 31, Atlanta 13

Jan. 6, 2002 at 10:00 PM
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ST. LOUIS, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Marshall Faulk became the first player in NFL history to surpass 2,000 total yards in four straight seasons Sunday as the St. Louis Rams wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 31-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

"It means nothing," Faulk said of his milestone. "The one that means the most to me is what we accomplished in 1999."

St. Louis needed a victory to clinch home field after the Chicago Bears defeated Jacksonville earlier in the day, 33-13.

"The goal throughout the regular season is to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs," St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner said. "We set ourselves up to do that. It's a perfect situation right now."

Faulk ran for 168 yards on 20 carries and caught five passes for 58 yards to finish the year with 2,147 yards from scrimmage.

"I don't know how to explain him," St. Louis coach Mike Martz said. "We call him 'Canton' around here because that is where he's going to wind up.

"He will take his place in history as one of the great football players to ever play in this league."

St. Louis finished 14-2 -- one game ahead of the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers for the best record in the NFL -- and reached 14 wins for the first time in franchise history. In their Super Bowl season of 1999, the Rams finished 13-3.

With the Super Bowl set for New Orleans, St. Louis will not play outdoors again this season. The Rams suffered their two losses at home this season, falling to New Orleans in October and to Tampa Bay in late November.

The Rams will play either Green Bay, San Francisco or Tampa Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs.

"You want to play at home," Faulk said. "You don't want to play on the road. It's tough. We found that out last year in the playoffs (when the Rams lost to New Orleans)."

Warner overcame three interceptions to complete 25 of 30 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns.

The only negative for the Rams was receiver Isaac Bruce leaving in the first half with a lower back sprain. Bruce did not return, but Martz does not expect the injury to be serious.

"It didn't appear to be anything more than a sprain," Martz said. "He could have gone back in the game, but we just decided to keep him out."

The Falcons lost their final two games and five of their last six to finish at 7-9.

It could have been the final game for Atlanta coach Dan Reeves, who plans to speak with the Falcons' new owners to discuss his future with the team.

The defense set up the Rams' first score as cornerback Dexter McCleon's 43-yard interception led to Jeff Wilkins' 24-yard field goal 4:57 into the first quarter. Warner tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl with 48 seconds left in the first period to give St. Louis a 10-0 lead.

Rookie Jay Feely kicked field goals of 49 and 33 yards in the second quarter, sandwiched around Warner's 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ernie Conwell, to bring the Falcons within 17-6 at the intermission.

After Faulk scored on a three-yard run with 3:23 left in the third period, Darrick Vaughn returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown to again pull Atlanta within 11.

But St. Louis answered with a five-play, 60-yard drive, taking a 31-13 lead on Warner's eight-yard strike to Proehl.

"We're playing pretty good right now," Faulk said. "We just need to take care of the ball a bit better. Other than that, we are ready. I like where we're at. We cleaned some things up. Two games and we are to New Orleans."

"The Rams do a lot on the offensive side of the ball," Vaughn said. "They run a lot of motion and misdirection plays. They do such much that it gets you out of position on defense."

Faulk scored his 110th career touchdown to pass Barry Sanders and move into ninth on the all-time list. He scored his 59th touchdown as a member of the Rams to set a franchise mark.

Faulk has been especially effective against Atlanta. In his last six games against the Falcons, all St. Louis wins, the reigning NFL Most Valuable has 1,191 total yards -- 810 rushing and 381 receiving.

St. Louis finished the year with 503 points, becoming the first team in the NFL to register at least 500 points in three straight seasons.

Warner, who threw for 36 touchdowns, completed the year with 4,830 yards, the second-highest total in NFL history. Dan Marino threw for 5,084 yards for the Miami Dolphins in 1984.

"It's not about the stats," Warner said. "I'm surrounded by great people who make my job a lot easier. My job is to go out and win football games."

Rookie Michael Vick started for the Falcons and completed just 12 of 30 passes for 176 yards. He also threw an interception and lost two fumbles.

"Mike made a lot of big plays," Reeves said. "Unfortunately, he turned the ball over and that's something that concerns me the most about him. He's got to learn to protect the football and that was something that was a problem with him in college."

"Sometimes, I get so excited when I see guys open downfield, guys come from behind and I get careless with the football," Vick said. "That is something that can be corrected."

Faulk recorded his 30th career 100-yard game, 16th as a Ram and fifth this season. Since moving to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams are 23-0 when they have a 100-yard rusher.

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