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Rams pitch first shutout in two years

10/14/2003
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ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Like a good veteran, Aeneas Williams knows how
to follow instructions.

He couldn't have done a better job Monday night in sparking the
St. Louis Rams' 36-0 rout of the Atlanta Falcons. Williams forced
two early turnovers, Travis Fisher returned an interception 74
yards for a touchdown and Larry Little tackled T.J. Duckett in the
end zone for a safety. Atlanta managed only 209 yards in St. Louis'
first shutout in two years and the Rams' first home shutout since
1993, when they played in Anaheim.

"That was the emphasis tonight." Williams said after his 52nd
career pickoff, second among active players to Oakland's Rod Woodson. "In our meetings, coach Lovie (Smith) would start yelling, 'Interceptions, interceptions.' Even when I would go home, I'd open my refrigerator and hear coach Lovie saying, 'Interceptions, interceptions,' and have to close it right away."

The Rams closed out the Falcons right away, too.

Williams, playing free safety this year for the first time after
a stellar career as a cornerback, picked off Doug Johnson's
ill-advised first-quarter pass in the end zone. Then he knocked the
ball free from Atlanta tight end Alge Crumpler and recovered the
fumble in the second period.

Both turnovers set up long drives for points as St. Louis took a
10-0 halftime lead.

"They beat our butts," Falcons quarterback Doug Johnson said.
"I wouldn't want someone to take credit away from me if I whipped
somebody's butt."

Marc Bulger threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns to Torry Holt
and Lamar Gordon had a career-high 92 yards rushing, but it was the
defense that drew the most praise.

"Give credit to the defense," said Holt, who had 161 yards on
11 receptions. "A goose egg!"

St. Louis (3-2) won its ninth straight home game and handed the
Falcons (1-5) their first shutout defeat since 1993. In a span of
four plays in the third quarter, the Rams had three sacks. They
never allowed Atlanta, ranked 27th in total offense, to threaten to
get coach Dan Reeves his 200th career victory.

The Falcons have lost five in a row and are in desperate need of
a healthy Michael Vick. Johnson, his replacement, made several
critical mistakes and the defense recorded the safety when Little
nailed Duckett trying to run out of the end zone in the third
quarter. It was the fourth safety the Falcons have yielded this
season.

"We're just struggling right now in all areas," Reeves said.
"I don't know that one person can make that much difference."

Williams attempted to run his early interception out of the end
zone but got only to the 1. It looked like an unwise move until
Isaac Bruce went to work.

Bulger hit Bruce for 16 yards on third down, and after Gordon's
20-yard run, Bruce, on a reverse, threw perfectly to Holt for 25
yards to the Atlanta 29 -- the second completion of the wide
receiver's 10-year career.

That led to Jeff Wilkins' 28-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead --
and also established the Rams' willingness to be daring.

The next St. Louis series was punctuated by a 33-yard completion
to Bruce. On fourth-and-1 at the 7, Martz went for it, but a
pitchout to Gordon was snuffed by linebacker Keith Newman.

No big deal. Williams made his second big play, and St. Louis
took over at its 42. Bulger capped a 58-yard drive with a 3-yard
run up the middle through a gap seemingly as wide as the
Mississippi.

"I really didn't feel like I played an NFL game tonight,"
Bulger said. "I hardly got hit. I thought we were going to get 40
or 50."

The Falcons never were in it after that. Holt caught a 21-yard
TD pass early in the third quarter and had a 14-yarder with 10:44
remaining.

Atlanta got some strong running from Duckett early, only to go
away from him at critical times and flop. Duckett rushed for 38
yards in the first quarter and barely made a dent the rest of the
way.

Jay Feely attempted a 60-yard field goal at the end of the first
half, but Richard Angulo of the Rams blocked it. Otherwise, the
Falcons were stymied by the Rams' suddenly strong defense.

"That's probably the worst game as a team I've ever seen in my
life," Johnson said.

Game notes
Rams SS Adam Archuleta sprained his left ankle; a
preliminary X-ray was negative. ... Johnson finished 10-for-23 for
134 yards. ... Holt has 23 receptions for 294 yards in the last two
games. ... The Rams' last shutout win was 35-0 at Detroit on Oct.
8, 2001, also a Monday nighter. Their last home shutout was 27-0
over Pittsburgh on Sept. 12, 1993.