The sound emanating from the St. Louis Rams on Sunday went from Whooooosh! to Whew! in Super Bowl XXXIV.
The Rams used a combination of superior offensive speed and a last-second defensive stop at the 1-yard line to post a thrilling 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in front of 72,265 fans at the Georgia Dome.
We knew it would be tough, said Rams coach Dick Vermeil, who brought a downtrodden franchise its first Super Bowl championship three years after becoming head coach. They made it tough and we made it tough. ... But were the world champions. And world champions are supposed to be tough.
St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner capped a Super Bowl-record 414-yard passing performance with a 73-yard touchdown throw to Isaac Bruce for the go-ahead score with 1:53 remaining in the game. But winning the Most Valuable Player trophy wouldnt be nearly as sweet for Warner if Rams left outside linebacker Mike Jones werent a sure-handed tackler.
Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair used short passes and his scrambling ability to drive Tennessee 88 yards to the St. Louis 10 with six seconds left. On the final play of the game, McNair quickly fired a pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson.
As Dyson turned toward the end zone at the 5, Jones wrapped him up short of the goal line as time expired.
After that, I stood up and I looked at the clock, Jones said. Time was up, and I realized we were Super Bowl champions.
Such heroics, though, wouldnt have been necessary had St. Louis been able to capitalize on numerous scoring opportunities earlier in the game.
Tennessee held tough the first five times St. Louis moved inside the red zone by limiting the Rams to three field goals. St. Louis finally found success midway through the third quarter when rookie wide receiver Torry Holt juked Titans nickel back Dainon Sidney off the line of scrimmage on a slant route for a 9-yard touchdown catch.
Trailing 16-0, Tennessees finally showed signs of life in the third quarter with a 12-play, 66-yard drive that consumed 7:06. But after tailback Eddie George ran behind fullback Lorenzo Neal for a 1-yard touchdown, the Titans failed to convert a two-point conversion when McNair sent a pass to the right of open tight end Frank Wycheck in the end zone.
Still, that didnt stop Tennessees momentum. For the first time, St. Louis was forced to punt without gaining a first down.
Tennessee then embarked on another methodical 13-play drive, with George pounding the ball in from 1-yard out to close the score to 16-13 with 7:21 left in the game.
With St. Louis going three-and-out once again, Tennessee had a chance to take the lead. But when a third-down McNair pass sailed over the head of tight end Frank Wycheck, the Titans were forced to settle for a 42-yard Al Del Greco field goal that tied the score with 2:05 remaining.
In retrospect, McNair would love to have that throw back.
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Warner heaved a pass down the Rams sideline toward Bruce just before getting clobbered by Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse.
Bruce slowed down to catch the underthrown ball, leaving behind Titans cornerback Denard Walker in the process. Bruce then spun out of a tackle attempt by Titans free safety Anthony Dorsett and motored into the end zone for the 73-yard touchdown, giving St. Louis a seven-point lead with 1:53 remaining.
It was just a go route, said Warner, who became a starter this season only when Trent Green went down with a knee injury during the preseason. Isaac had beaten his guy earlier, and we wanted to try and get a big one downfield right off the bat. We figured they might not be expecting it.
Even though he completed 21 of 45 passes, Warner failed to connect on his first 12 passes inside Tennessees 20. Combined with two special teams blunders, St. Louis could only take a 9-0 lead into halftime despite 294 yards of total offense.
On the games first series, St. Louis Mike Horan fumbled the hold on a 35-yard attempt by kicker Jeff Wilkins and was tackled to end the scoring opportunity.
The Rams covered 49 yards on the first two plays of their next drive thanks to completions from Warner to Holt and running back Marshall Faulk. But St. Louis then stalled at Tennessees 9, resulting in a 27-yard Wilkins field goal with 3:00 left in the first quarter.
Wilkins missed a 34-yard attempt on St. Louis next possession squandering excellent field position that resulted from Faulk gaining 52 yards on a screen pass but made amends with a 29-yard field goal with 4:16 left before halftime.
Warner set a Super Bowl record with 35 first-half pass attempts, breaking the mark of 29 set by New Englands Drew Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI. But when Warner misfired on three consecutive throws from the Titans 10 just before halftime, Wilkins was sent in again for a 28-yard field goal.
Field goals werent going to win this game, said Bruce, who caught six passes for 162 yards. We had to get into the end zone.
The ending to Super Bowl XXXIV was fitting considering the zany nature of the season. St. Louis went from being a 4-12 team in 1998 to 17-2 overall, while Tennessee (16-4) made its first Super Bowl appearance after three consecutive 8-8 campaigns.
What a great football game, Rams middle linebacker London Fletcher said. It is a shame one team has to lose. My heart foes out to them, but we are the champions.
We turned it around from 4-12 to winning the Super Bowl. I thought maybe the playoffs back in training camp. What a game and what a season.