Turnovers doom Packers in dome

ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Rams picked the exact right time to get defensive.<p> The NFC West champions, known as offesnive juggernaut, forced eight turnovers, intercepted Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre a career-high six times and returned three for touchdowns as the Rams beat Packers 45-17 before 66,338 in the Dome at America's Center in an NFC Divisional game.<p>

That's the most points ever allowed by the Packers in the playoffs, and now St. Louis will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game next Sunday at St. Louis.

For all the talk of offensive fireworks, the Rams used their defense to get on the scoreboard first. On the Packers' second possession from the Green Bay 22, Favre fired to Bill Schroeder along the right sideline. Schroeder turned outside and Favre threw the pass inside. Cornerback Aeneas Williams intercepted the pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown with 9:11 left in the first quarter.

It was the first playoff touchdown for Williams, who came to St. Louis from Arizona this season.

The Packers appeared to be headed to the end zone on their next possession, but Green fumbled after a 17-yard run, and the Rams recovered at the St. Louis 40. But the Packers returned the favor two plays later when safety Darren Sharper intercepted Warner at the Packer 35.

Favre then drove the team to the Rams 23, where he connected Freeman for a 23-yard scoring pass with 2:35 left in the quarter to tie the game 7-7. On third down, Freeman grabbed the pass two yards short of the first down, juked a Ram defender, then dashed to the end zone. He leaped over Dexter McCleon at the goal line for the score.

The Rams went right back to work,. Facing a third down-and-8 from the Rams 36, warner hit Az-Aklhim for 15 yards and a first down. Faulk then ripped off a 38-yard run to the Packer 11. On the first play of the second quarter, Warner connected with Holt on an inside slant for a 4-yard touchdown.

Green Bay turned the ball over a third time when Favre's pass to Freeman was picked off by Kim Herrings and returned 45 yards to the Packers 4. Two plays later, Warner hit running back James Hodgins for a 4-yard touchdown and put the Rams ahead 21-7.

Allen Rossum almost closed the gap on the ensuing kickoff when he sprinted down the right sideline for an apparent 95-yard touchdown, but rookie linebacker Torrance Marshall was whistled for holding on the play.

After forcing a Rams punt, Favre drove the Packers 40 yards in nine plays to set up Ryan Longwell's 28-yard field goal with 4:18 left in the half to cut the lead to 21-10.

The Rams answered again. Warner completed passes of 18 yards to Holt, 9 to Faulk and 27 to third-string tight end Jeff Robinson, who got wide open in the left seam to the Packers 13.

Sharper stopped tight end Ernie Conwell on third-and-1 at the Green Bay 4. Jeff Wilkins kicked a 27-yard field goal to give the Rams a 24-10 halftime lead.

The Packers forced the Rams to punt on the first series of third quarter, and Green ripped off a 49-yard run on the Packers's first play to the Rams 32. But slippery fingers struck the Packers again as Freeman fumbled a 2-yard reception at the Rams 31.

Three plays later, Warner hit Holt deep in the left seam for 50 yards. Tyrone Williams and Darren Sharper had coverage, but Holt snaked between them and came up with the ball at the Packers 7. On the next play, Faulk ran around the left end, and over two Packers for a touchdown to give St. Louis a 31-10 lead with 9:44 left in the third period.

But the Packers again proved to be their own worst enemey. On the next series, a Favre pass was tipped by defensive end Grant Wistrom and lineback Tommy Polley intercepted the fluttering deflection and returned it 34 yards for the Rams' second defensive touchdown. After the extra point, the Rams led 38-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

Favre threw two more interceptions in the fourth quarter, throwing a career-high five. Williams nabbed his second pick when Favre overthrew in the middle. He grabbed the pass and dashed 32 yards for his touchdown of the game with 7:50 left.

Favre finally kept the ball away from the Rams and moved the Packers down the field. He connected with Freeman for a 7-yard score with 5:46 left to make the game 45-17.


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