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First Look At Super Bowl

January 28, 2002

New England (13-5) vs. St. Louis (16-2)

How they got here: While most expected the Rams to challenge for a Super Bowl berth, few--if any--thought the Patriots would even make the playoffs. In the playoffs, the Rams forced eight turnovers to rout the Packers, 45-17, then outlasted the Eagles, 29-24. Aided by a controversial call, the Patriots downed the Raiders, 16-13, in overtime, then took advantage of two special-teams touchdowns to beat the heavily favored Steelers, 24-17. Both teams had first-round byes.

Last meeting: Nov. 18, 2001. Kurt Warner completed 30 of 42 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams' 24-17 victory. The Patriots' only offensive touchdown came on Tom Brady's 10-yard pass play to David Patten with 7:46 left in the game, but they never got the ball back as the Rams held it for the remaining 14 plays.

Common opponents: Miami, New York Jets, New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta and Indianapolis. New England was 7-2 against these teams, with losses coming against Miami and the New York Jets. St. Louis was 8-1, with the loss coming against New Orleans. The Rams outscored those opponents, 335-161, the Patriots, 218-132.

About the Patriots: New England's season was right out of a Hollywood script. The drama began in August with the death of quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein. An 0-2 start had many doubting that Coach Bill Belichick would be around at season's end. While wide receiver Terry Glenn's personal problems became a season-long distraction, his absence opened the door for Troy Brown, who responded with a team-record 101 catches. In the second game of the season, quarterback Drew Bledsoe was sidelined after getting hit so hard by the Jets' Mo Lewis that he bled internally. In stepped untested Tom Brady who along with Buffalo running back castoff Antowain Smith, led the Patriots to an 11-5 record and the AFC East title. Belichick also added six free agents to a defense that ranked 20th in the NFL in 2000 and came up with a "bend-but-don't-break" unit that gave up only five touchdowns in a regular season-ending six-game win streak.

About the Rams: The Rams played their "Greatest Show on Earth" nickname to the hilt, rolling through the regular season with the NFL's No. 1-ranked offense to a 14-2 record--with the losses coming by a combined 10 points. League MVP Kurt Warner threw for 4,830 yards and 36 touchdowns, running back Marshall Faulk had 2,147 total yards and 21 touchdowns and wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce combined for 145 catches for 2,469 yards and 13 touchdowns. After a lackluster defensive effort cost the Rams in the 2000 playoffs, new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith rebuilt the unit with eight new starters--the most notable being all-pro cornerback Aeneas Williams. The Ram defense went from a No. 24 ranking to No. 4.

Roy Jurgens

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