American Football: Recovery ends as Rams rue late bad call by Martz

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The Independent Online

The St Louis Rams' seemingly-jinxed season may finally be over following their surprise 20-17 loss in Washington. After losing their first five games, the pre-season Super Bowl favourites had put themselves back in contention by winning five in a row, but Sunday's reverse may spell the end of their post-season aspirations.

Ironically, the Rams welcomed back their quarterback Kurt Warner, who had missed his team's winning streak with a broken finger. His replacement, Marc Bulger, had been magnificent in his absence, but the St Louis coach, Mike Martz, had always maintained that Warner would return when healthy.

Warner certainly looked back to his best, completing his first 15 pass attempts, including a four-yard touchdown to Troy Edwards as the Rams jumped to an early 10-point lead. However, Washington put themselves ahead thanks to three touchdowns from the running back Stephen Davis.

Another touchdown from Warner, this time to Ricky Proehl, set up a strong finish, with the Rams only three points adrift, and on Washington's six-yard line with 17 seconds remaining.

A field goal would have sent things to overtime, but the Rams went for the win. It proved to be a disastrous decision. Warner fumbled after a hit from LaVar Arrington, Daryl Gardener recovered and the game and, probably, the Rams' season was over.

The luckless Warner, the most productive quarterback in the game over the last three years, was absolved from blame. "I just made a bad call," said Martz.

The most thrilling finish of the weekend came in Denver, where the Indianapolis Colts overcame the odds and the elements to beat the Broncos 23-20 in overtime. In driving snow the Colts kicker, Mike Vanderjagt, converted a 54-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in normal time, then settled matters with a game-winning 51-yard effort to send Denver to their third home loss in succession.

Drama after the final gun in Tampa, where the battle between the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended in a comfortable 21-7 home win.

The result means the Buccaneers have the best record in the NFL for the first time since the franchise's formation in 1976, but their defensive talisman, Warren Sapp, became engaged in a heated argument with the Packers' head coach Mike Sherman at the finish.

Sherman remonstrated with Sapp after Green Bay's Chad Clifton was injured following a hit from the Tampa player. The two had to be restrained by security guards, with Sapp hurling taunts and insults at Sherman.

In another meeting of play-off contenders the Miami Dolphins made short work of the San Diego Chargers, the running back Ricky Williams proving unstoppable with 143 yards and two touchdowns in Miami's surprisingly one-sided 30-3 demolition.

Elsewhere, the Atlanta Falcons battered the Carolina Panthers 41-0 while the Oakland Raiders were similarly dominant in their 38-20 disposal of the Arizona Cardinals.

The Pittsburgh Steelers owed their nervous 29-21 triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals to the return to health of their running back Jerome Bettis, who scored twice.