1999 Lyght, Jones returns key big-play defense
ST. LOUIS -- Back at home, the St. Louis Rams were back in playoff form.
Kurt Warner threw two touchdown passes, increasing his NFL-leading total to 26, and the Rams got defensive touchdowns from Todd Lyght and Mike Jones in a 35-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The Rams (7-2) recovered convincingly from successive excruciating losses at Tennessee and at Detroit that ended an unbeaten season.
Rams quarterback Kurt Warner gets a pass off as center Mike Gruttadauria, left, blocks Carolina's Kevin Greene and guard Adam Timmerman locks up the Panthers' Esera Tuaolo.
"Our defense basically won the game for us," said tight end Roland Williams, who caught a touchdown pass. "They were making a lot of plays and they just shined."
Until Marshall Faulk tacked on a gratuitous 18-yard run with 1:11 to play, the offense and defense each had produced two touchdowns. The Rams got their first two-TD game from the defense since 1995.
"For a while, we were a little worried about it," Warner joked. "When our defense goes out and gets us 14 points, we can't complain too much."
The Rams won their sixth straight at home, their longest streak since 1984-85. They're 5-0 at the Trans World Dome, where they've quickly developed into a hot ticket and are drawing sellouts while winning by an average score of 35-10.
The game was the first of five in a row against NFC West competition and gave St. Louis a four-game lead with seven to play. The Panthers (3-6) were without running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka, who missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle, and have lost three of four.
Warner, who had thrown only 11 passes entering the season, fell one touchdown pass off the NFL record pace of Dan Marino, who had 48 in 1984. He was 19-for-29 for 286 yards and one interception, hitting Isaac Bruce for his 10th touchdown from 22 yards and Roland Williams from 19 yards.
Not that all the Panthers were impressed.
"They were about what I thought they were going to be," said free safety Mike Minter, who had a fumble recovery. "Fourteen points on the defense, and that last one, you can't count that.
"So that's pretty good. They've been putting up 30-something points on everyone."
Carolina's Michael Bates became the first Rams opponent to return a kickoff beyond the 40 when he made it to the 42 in the second quarter.
When the Panthers scored on their opening drive, it was the first time the Rams trailed at home this season.
Rams nickel back Taje Allen was taken to a hospital for X-rays after sustaining a sprained neck.
Rams free safety Keith Lyle, who has made 73 consecutive starts, left with a bruised shoulder. He expects to play next week at San Francisco.
Panthers defensive end Antonio Edwards suffered a sprained left knee.
With seven games to go, the Rams matched their top victory total in five seasons since moving to St. Louis. They were 7-9 in 1995, their first year after the move.
Lyght's 57-yard interception return with 15 seconds to go in the first quarter was the Rams' biggest defensive play, giving them the lead for good at 14-7. Lyght took away the inside route from Patrick Jeffers and the pass from Steve Beuerlein, who had been 9-for-9, hit him right in the numbers.
"Just a bad play on my part," Beuerlein said. "I've got nowhere else to put the blame. I threw it too quick and hit him right in the chest."
Lyght, who has four career touchdowns, was shocked and pleased.
"When you catch the ball clean like that and get a free run to the zone, it's always a lovely situation," Lyght said. "We needed a big play to get it open and that was it, and after that we never looked back."
Jones made it 28-10 when he stripped the ball from Wesley Walls and returned it 37 yards in the third quarter.
Faulk, who had only 17 yards on nine carries after three quarters, finished with 73 yards.
Kevin Carter had 2? of the Rams' six sacks for the 10th multisack game of his career. He has 5? the last two weeks, is among the league leaders with 9? and has 11 sacks in nine career games against the Panthers.
"Our front four is, I think, as good as any," Carter said. "We really come after you."
Beuerlein, who had three touchdown passes last week, was effective from a statistical standpoint, going 24-for-39 for 286 yards, but with two interceptions. Walls caught a 14-yard pass for the game's first score, and Muhsin Muhammad had nine receptions for 125 yards before leaving in the second half with injured ribs.
The Panthers opened with a nine-play, 70-yard drive to Walls' seventh touchdown catch of the season. John Kasay made a 24-yard field goal with 24 seconds to go in the half.
The Rams tied it on their first drive on Warner's pass to Bruce. The key play was a 53-yard completion to Faulk, and on the next play Bruce was wide open in the end zone. DVD
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