Wilkins' leg holds up for 3 first-half Ram field goals

Jeff Wilkins and his sore left knee got quite a workout.

The kicker was the St. Louis Rams' biggest question mark heading into the Super Bowl due to chronic tendinitis in his plant leg. And that was with good reason, considering his performance in the Rams' 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday night.

Wilkins made three short attempts in the first half for the only points in a 9-0 lead. But he also was wide right on a 34-yarder.

"I made it through, and that's all that matters,'' Wilkins said. "All I needed was one game, and I made it through.''

Wilkins said he will undergo surgery in a week or so. The injury has affected his kicking all season.

The Rams needed Wilkins a lot more than usual due to unaccountable breakdowns inside the 20, especially in the first half. Results: mixed. A fifth attempt was botched when holder Mike Horan mishandled the snap and placed the ball on its side instead of a point, and Wilkins never got off a kick.

Both Wilkins and Horan blamed overly slick balls for the kick he didn't get to try.

"The ball boys wouldn't even let us touch them so that we had an idea of what to expect,'' Horan said. "They're a lot different than practice balls, and even the new ones we brought out to use this week.''

Wilkins had no excuse for the 34-yard miss. He missed only one of 13 attempts inside the 40 in the regular season.

"I just mis-hit it,'' he said.

He also shrugged it off, despite the magnitude of the game.

"It wasn't a perfect day,'' Wilkins said. "But in the past I've let things bother me more than I probably should. This time I didn't let it bother me.''

All the work didn't seem to overly affect him. Wilkins forced a touchback after kicking off following his third field goal near the end of the half, and also reached the end zone to open the second half.

The Rams led the NFL in scoring efficiency inside the 20 in the regular season, with 38 touchdowns and 12 field goals in 59 trips. Kurt Warner joined Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks to throw 40 or more touchdown passes.

In the first half, Warner passed for 277 yards and the Rams penetrated the 20 five times. But he never really came close to converting.

"We had some problems in the red zone, but we were trying to get the ball in there,'' running back Marshall Faulk said. "But we were trying to get the ball in there. We knew eventually we would get in there.''

Twice in the playoffs, Wilkins talked the Rams out of signing 43-year-old Nick Lowery, who hasn't kicked since 1996. Lowery came to Atlanta on his own, and brought his kicking shoe just in case.

But during the Super Bowl buildup, Wilkins reasoned it was just "one dang game.''

Wilkins was 20-of-28 during the regular season, but has been bothered by the injury much of the time. He missed a mid-range field goal attempt in each of the Rams' previous two playoff games.

Wilkins hurt his right leg against the Titans on his 38-yard miss in the final minute of a 24-21 loss Oct. 31, but he didn't miss any games because of it.

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