Warner bombardment lifts St Louis

It may be difficult to win a Super Bowl, but it is far harder to successfully defend it, and the history of the game is littered with stories of teams who have enjoyed the fruits of success one year, only to be left with a bitter taste in the mouth the following season.

It may be difficult to win a Super Bowl, but it is far harder to successfully defend it, and the history of the game is littered with stories of teams who have enjoyed the fruits of success one year, only to be left with a bitter taste in the mouth the following season.

Not so the St Louis Rams. Having emerged from obscurity to win the championship last year, they seem well placed to mount a successful assault on the summit. Their thrilling 41-20 triumph over the Atlanta Falcons in Georgia on Sunday was their fourth win in a row, and they are one of a handful of teams yet to suffer a reverse.

Despite falling behind to Jamal Anderson's three-yard touch-down run, the Rams rarely looked flustered, pulling away with ominous ease in a one-sided second half. As ever, they were inspired by their quarterback Kurt Warner who completed 12 of his 19 passes for 336 yards and four touchdowns. Warner, a former refugee from NFL Europe, surprised everyone in 1999 when he came from nowhere to spearhead the Rams' unexpected odyssey. There were suggestions that he might be a one-season wonder, but sceptics have already been silenced. After four games the former Amsterdam Admiral has amassed 10 touchdown passes and compiled more than 1,500 passing yards. If he can carry on at this pace, he will re-write the record books.

"We know we can score whenever we get the ball," he said. "We didn't get a lot of shots but we took advantage of them when we did get them." Chief beneficiary of Warner's aerial bombardment was the receiver Torry Holt, who caught three catches for 189 yards, two of them for touchdowns.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were relieved of their unbeaten record in dramatic fashion, falling 21-17 to a last-minute touchdown against the New York Jets. The Buccaneers seemed in command when Ronde Barber returned an interception 37 yards to give them a 17-6 lead. However, an inspired Jet rally saw Curtis Martin score on the ground, then the same player threw a scoring pass to Wayne Chrebet with 40 seconds remaining. They are one of only three teams - Minnesota being the other - still enjoying an unbeaten record.

The moment will have been particularly sweet for the Jets veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who spent a decade toiling in vain for Tampa Bay, during which time he came to symbolise the futility of one of the NFL's most consistently unsuccessful franchises.

New York's other team, the Giants, surrendered their unbeaten record, struggling badly against the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, pre-season Super Bowl favourites, have had headaches of their own, losing their last two outings. However, a pair of touchdowns from their quarterback, Brad Johnson, ensured a 16-6 verdict, which will ease the pressure on the head coach, Norv Turner.

The San Francisco 49ers finally achieved their first win, an emphatic 41-24 rout of the dismal Dallas Cowboys. The running back Charlie Garner rushed for 201 yards, a franchise record, while the quarterback Jeff Garcia threw four touchdowns.

The Baltimore Ravens impressed with a 37-0 rout of the woeful Cincinnati Bengals. The Cincinnati quarter-back, Akili Smith, was knocked out of the game with a concussion while his counterpart and former Bengal, Jeff Blake, threw touchdown passes to Travis Taylor and Shannon Sharpe.

That was enough for the Bengals head coach, Bruce Coslett, who resigned yesterday. Dick LeBeau, the assistant head coach and defensive co-ordinator, replaces him. Cincinnati, who have won a total of seven games the past two seasons, have scored only seven points in their three losses this season.

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