Kurt Warner grasped the ball with his healed right thumb and threw the New England Patriots off their winning track.
Warner completed 30 of 42 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns, and St. Louis won, 24-17, Sunday night despite his two interceptions and injuries that knocked five Rams out of the game. None returned.
“The thumb feels good again,” he said. “It’s exciting to get out there and throw the ball the way you want to. It’s probably as good as I’ve felt this year.”
Even before the game against a team that was 5-2 in its previous seven games, Coach Mike Martz knew how well Warner was throwing. “I watched him in warmups. I’ve never seen him like that. He was unconscious,” Martz said.
The Patriots (5-5) controlled the NFL’s most productive offense for most of the first half, leading, 10-7, until the final minute. That’s when Warner completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Marshall Faulk that put St. Louis (8-1) ahead to stay.
The 97-yard drive began when Aeneas Williams recovered Antowain Smith’s fumble as the Patriots appeared about to make it 17-7.
“No matter what happens the rest of the year, the telling point about this team was when the defense took the ball away at the three-yard line,” Martz said.
New England’s other turnovers came on two interceptions of Tom Brady passes.
“It’s not like they stopped us. If anything, we’re just stopping ourselves,” Brady said. “We played against a real good team and I think we were right there with them.”
Brady dropped to 5-3 since taking over after Drew Bledsoe suffered bleeding in his chest after being hit by Mo Lewis of the New York Jets.
For the first time since then, Bledsoe was cleared by doctors for contact and was the No. 2 quarterback. He didn’t get into the game, but the loss could energize the growing quarterback controversy.
The Patriots’ only offensive touchdown came on Brady’s 10-yard pass play to David Patten with 7:46 left, making it 24-17.
But they never got the ball back as St. Louis held it for the remaining 14 plays.
“We can look at this game and learn from it, but I think we can also look at this game and say we can play with anybody,” Patriot cornerback Ty Law said.
The Ram defense was solid despite the loss of two of this year’s three first-round draft picks, defensive tackle Damione Lewis and strong safety Adam Archuleta, plus linebacker Mark Fields and end Leonard Little. Wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim left in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle.