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NFL / WEEK 8

Rams' Perfect World Jolted

Pro football: Defense is exploited in 54-34 loss to Chiefs and they lose Warner after he breaks finger.

October 23, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kurt Warner's right pinky finger isn't the only thing broken for the St. Louis Rams.

So is the defense.

The once-unstoppable Rams couldn't stop the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday.

Now they know what it must feel like to play themselves after a 54-34 loss ended the Super Bowl champions' hopes of an undefeated season before a raucous crowd of 79,142 at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Rams killed themselves with four turnovers--including an interception thrown by Warner on the second play of the game--and the Chiefs kept turning the mistakes into points, turning the tables on a Ram offense that still might go down as the most prolific in NFL history.

It will be even more of a marvel now if it does.

Warner--the most valuable player of the Super Bowl--was declared out for four to six weeks after breaking the little finger on his throwing hand as he took an awkward snap from backup center Steve Everitt at the end of the first half, fumbling at the Chiefs' eight-yard line.

Warner was sidelined the rest of the game but said he hopes he can return as soon as next week against the San Francisco 49ers.

Ram Coach Mike Martz, though, expects to turn the heart of the season over to Trent Green, the quarterback who was set to start last season before his knee injury propelled the then-unknown Warner to stardom.

"I'll be at home praying to try to get back next week," Warner said. "I'm going to be back as soon as I can. Hopefully it will be next week. If not next week, the week after that.

"I had a broken thumb on my throwing hand a few years back in the Arena League and I was able to play through it. I hope I'll be able to do it again."

It is not only Warner who is hurt.

Marshall Faulk--the double-threat running back many believe is the key to the Rams' mind-boggling offense--injured his left shoulder in the second half and though he played a bit more, his status is uncertain.

"It's a concern. I'll see how it feels during the week and see what happens," said Faulk, who had his bruised shoulder X-rayed after the game.

The Ram offensive line is battered as well, starting the game with two injured starters and adding another during the game as the patchwork line struggled with false starts.

But the alarming crisis is a defense that had been surviving because the Rams (6-1) put up points at such a phenomenal pace--scoring 42.3 a game while giving up 32.6 after Sunday.

An already worried Martz succeeded Saturday in luring defensive mastermind Bud Carson--architect of the old Pittsburgh Steel Curtain defense--out of retirement despite recent health problems to fix the Rams.

The job just got bigger.

Though Carson's official title is consultant, he apparently has final say over defensive coordinator Peter Giunta.

"He can be co-head coach if he wants," Martz said. "I think Bud can help us. We need some help."

The Rams collapsed Sunday, giving up the most points they have in a game since 1956--the third-most in franchise history behind the 56 points scored by Baltimore in 1956 and Philadelphia in 1950.

It was the first time the Chiefs (4-3) have scored 50 points since 1967.

'It was kind of funny," said Kansas City quarterback Elvis Grbac, who was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter after bruising his elbow but expects to be OK next week.

"We were sitting there on Saturday and somebody was messing with the clock. I asked one of the coaches what they were doing: Were they checking the lightbulbs to see how many points they were going to score and how many we were going to score, and make sure every lightbulb was in there?

"The mind-set going in was score as many as you can to win this game."

They did--and more.

Grbac passed for 266 yards before being replaced by 43-year-old Warren Moon, who passed for another 78, completing all three passes he attempted.

Kansas City riddled the Ram pass defense. Receiver Derrick Alexander and tight end Tony Gonzalez each caught five passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.

The Chiefs won by the blueprint many have predicted it would take to beat the Rams: They jumped ahead early, taking a 20-0 lead in the first quarter.

James Hasty picked off Warner's ill-advised pass on the second play of the game and gave the Chiefs the ball at the Ram 25-yard line only 23 seconds into the game.

With less than two minutes gone, Frank Moreau ran the ball in from two yards out as Kansas City took a 7-0 lead.

The Chiefs got the ball at the Ram 49 on their next possession after a 23-yard Ram punt, then drove for a field goal for a 10-0 lead.

John Browning's interception of a tipped Warner pass on the next Ram possession set up another field goal.

Then Bracy Walker blocked a Ram punt deep in St. Louis territory and Mike Cloud recovered it at the six-yard line and stumbled in for a touchdown.

The Chiefs lead was 20-0 with 2:56 still left in the first quarter.

The Rams never got closer than 12 points, 40-28, in the third quarter.

The Chiefs succeeded by putting pressure on Warner and Green with a four-man front and well-timed blitzes.

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