Wed, Dec 29, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Rams retain place in NFL race

AP , ST. LOUIS

Quarterback Marc Bulger of the St. Louis Rams is sacked by Jamaal Green of the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday.

PHOTO: AFP

The Rams desperately needed a win and played like it. The Eagles desperately wanted to stay healthy and played like it.

Rookie Steven Jackson's best NFL performance carried St. Louis to a 20-7 victory over Philadelphia that kept the Rams in the NFC playoff race. Jackson rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown, but he also limped off midway through the fourth quarter with a bruised right knee.

With the Eagles (13-2) playing it safe -- running back Brian Westbrook, their prime offensive threat with star wideout Terrell Owens sidelined, was scratched, along with starting tackle Tra Thomas -- their reserves were no match for a Rams squad with its season on the line.

"At this point it doesn't make any difference to me," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "If they are going to play those guys we should dominate them."

Philadelphia gained a mere 155 yards against a defense ranked 24th. With starting quarterback Donovan McNabb in the game for one series, the Eagles gained 63 of those yards and got their only score.

With the victory, St. Louis ensured a meaningful finale against the New York Jets. If the Rams (7-8) beat the Jets on Sunday and Seattle loses to Atlanta, St. Louis will win the NFC West.

If the Seahawks win and take the division, St. Louis can make the playoffs by winning and having Minnesota lose at Washington, or by Carolina and New Orleans tying.

A win for the Jets would put them into the AFC playoffs.

"After all the drama we've been through this year, to be in position to get into the playoffs, how awesome is that?" Martz said.

"We will show up next week and lay it all out there," he said.

Jackson, who missed one game with a bruised knee and did not get on the field last week despite being healthy, revitalized a rushing game that totaled 88 yards in the last two games, both losses that dropped the Rams to the edge of elimina-tion. The overall offense was effective against Philadelphia's second-string defense, gaining 419 yards.

Also returning was quarterback Marc Bulger, whose right shoulder kept him out of those last two losses. Bulger was sharp enough, going 20-for-27 for 233 yards, and hit Isaac Bruce for a 7-yard touchdown, the only score of the third quarter.

Martz revealed after the game that Bulger has been playing hurt since the season opener.

In a stark departure from his passing persona, Martz -- perhaps sensing it would be Jackson's night -- called 10 running plays on the opening drive that covered 73 yards. Jackson ran for 46 yards and Marshall Faulk for 27 before Jackson surged in from the 5.

The first-round pick, the first running back chosen, also had a 43-yard run in the second period on a drive that ended with Jeff Wilkins missing a 44-yard field goal.

"He looks like a great runner to me," Martz said of Jackson. "That first series he is running through them and around them every which way you can. When you have a guy playing like that -- spectacular."

Wilkins made a 28-yarder for a 10-7 halftime lead. He later added a 29-yarder.

Freddie Mitchell's first-quarter touchdown catch was his first of the season, and the Eagles will be looking for more of that with Owens sidelined. He beat safety Antuan Edwards in the back of the end zone, reaching up for Mc-Nabb's pass to tie it at 7.

That was it for McNabb as the Eagles remained in their protective mode with nothing to gain from the game. They have a league-high nine Pro Bowlers, and most of them barely played.

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