The St. Louis Rams began the defense of their surprising 1999 NFL title in a Monday night game on September 4, 2000 at home against the Denver Broncos. QB Kurt Warner (pictured at right), who had gone from unknown backup to league MVP in ’99, was back and had an outstanding stable of receivers that featured savvy veteran WR Isaac Bruce as well as second-year players Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim. The Rams also had the highly productive Marshall Faulk at running back, who became just the second NFL player to reach over a thousand yards each in rushing and pass receiving in 1999.
did have a new head coach in Mike Martz, elevated from offensive coordinator to
replace the retired Dick Vermeil, as well as new uniforms of navy blue and old
The visiting Broncos, coached by Mike Shanahan, had been the NFL Champions in 1997 and ’98. However, they dropped precipitously to 6-10 in 1999, having lost star QB John Elway to retirement and 2000-yard RB Terrell Davis for most of the year due to injury. QB Brian Griese, son of
Miami’s former Hall of Famer Bob Griese, had
suffered through a difficult year in place of Elway and the defense was in a
state of flux.
There were 65,596 in attendance at the Trans World Dome. The Rams started quietly, going three-and-out in their first possession - although they would not punt again for the remainder of the contest.
Denver put together a 59-yard drive in six
plays, the last of which was an eight-yard bootleg by Griese for a touchdown.
The Broncos moved back in front by 10-7 following a 32-yard field goal by Jason Elam.
responded with a five-yard touchdown run by Faulk with just under nine minutes
remaining in the half. The teams traded touchdowns during the remainder of the second
quarter, with Griese throwing to WR Rod Smith for a 25-yard TD and Warner
connecting with WR Ricky Proehl from seven yards out in the final minute before
halftime. The Rams led by 21-17 at the intermission.
The next time
Louis got the ball, it was another quick score on a
short throw by Warner that Hakim, breaking a tackle by former Rams safety Billy
Jenkins at the line of scrimmage, went 80 yards with for a TD. Just two short
tosses had gained a total of 152 yards and two touchdowns, put the home crowd
in a frenzy, and given the Rams a 35-20 lead. But the Broncos were far from
For the second time, Al Wilson intercepted a Warner pass and the Broncos took advantage as Griese completed a seven-yard TD pass to TE Desmond Clark to close the margin to 35-27. Heading into the fourth quarter, an
field goal from 36 yards made it a five-point game.
St. Louis fell behind after a Warner pass intended for Torry Holt was picked off by CB Terrell Buckley, who returned it for a 32-yard touchdown and, although an attempt to add a two-point conversion failed, Denver had a 36-35 lead with 6:35 remaining on the clock.
The Rams rallied, however, putting together a 75-yard drive that featured Faulk running for a 30-yard gain to the
Denver one. RB Robert Holcombe gained the
last yard with just under three minutes to play, although the try for two
points was unsuccessful. Still, the defending champs were back in front by five
With several big plays, the Rams outgained
Denver by 433 yards to 274, but the Broncos
led in first downs by 25 to 23. St. Louis was
nearly done in by three turnovers, as opposed to none surrendered by Denver.
Kurt Warner, who spread the ball around to seven different receivers, completed 25 of 35 passes for 441 yards and three touchdowns, although he also gave up the three interceptions. Marshall Faulk rushed for 78 yards and a TD in 14 carries and added 100 yards and another score on four pass receptions. Indeed, the Rams had three hundred-yard receivers in the same game for the first time since 1951 as Az-Zahir Hakim gained 116 yards on his 5 catches and Torry Holt pulled in 6 passes for 103 yards. It was a highly productive game for the often-overlooked Hakim, who, with the long punt return for a TD, accumulated 202 total yards.
For the Broncos, Brian Griese (pictured below) had great success picking apart the
defense, going to the air 29 times and completing 19 for 307 yards and two TDs
with no interceptions. WR Ed McCaffrey led the receivers with 7 catches for 115
yards and Rod Smith gained 88 yards on his three receptions that included a
touchdown. RB Olandis Gary paced the club with 80 yards on 13 attempts. Terrell
Davis gained 34 yards on 9 carries before leaving the contest with a twisted
ankle suffered in the first quarter.
“That’s the name of our game,” said Kurt Warner afterward. “That’s what we do around here, we spread it around and get it to everybody and take advantage of what defenses are doing to us.”
“This was a game that if you like offense, it was fun to watch,” said Mike Shanahan. “If you like defense, you picked the wrong one to go to.”
The exciting win over
set the stage for the Rams to get off to a 6-0 start, but they faltered during
the second half of the season to finish at 10-6 and, due to tiebreakers, second
in the NFC West. While they still made the playoffs as a Wild Card team, the
Rams fell to New Orleans
in the first round. Still an extremely potent offensive team, as the contest
against the Broncos showed, St. Louis
was leaky on defense. Denver
bounced back to return to the postseason, also as a Wild Card with an 11-5
record. The Broncos lost in the first round as well, to the eventual-champion
Kurt Warner missed five games due to injury, but still passed for 3429 yards (averaging 311.7 per game) and 21 touchdowns, and was again selected to the Pro Bowl. Marshall Faulk, while out for two contests, was again prolific as he ran for 1359 yards and 18 TDs and caught 81 passes for another 830 yards and eight scores, giving him 2189 yards from scrimmage and a then-record 26 touchdowns scored.
Az-Zahir Hakim remained productive as the number three wide receiver and primary punt returner, although nagging injuries wore him down as well. He had 53 catches for 734 yards (13.8 avg.) and four touchdowns and averaged 15.3 yards on his 32 punt returns.
Brian Griese, who received much praise for his improved performance against the Rams, had a Pro Bowl year, completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 2688 yards and 19 TDs against just four interceptions.