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Original Issue

Back in Stride The Rams rediscovered their swagger and ran circles around the Viking

As St. Louis players floated off the field and toward the tunnel
in the aftermath of their 40-29 dismantling of the Vikings on
Sunday, it was impossible to discern joy from relief. Whose
gestures most appropriately fit St. Louis's biggest win of the
year? Perhaps it was that of owner Georgia Frontiere, wearily
smiling her toothy smile; or of quarterback Kurt Warner,
defiantly waving his index finger domeward; or of defensive end
Kevin Carter, who threw back his head and merrily dangled his
Sideshow Bob dreads, letting the hometown crowd's roar warm his

For the Rams, who are 9-5 and tied for the NFC West lead, the
victory wasn't just about ending their shocking three-game losing
streak or reclaiming their place among the NFL's elite. The
defending Super Bowl champs also displayed the trait that had
been so important in their title run but had vanished in recent
weeks: attitude. "We needed our swagger back," said coach Mike
Martz. "We'd become awfully tight. This win's a huge relief,
because, well, it was mounting."

Motivational ploys had abounded at the Rams' practice facility
all week. On Wednesday, Martz reminded his players that Vikings
coach Dennis Green, as co-chair of the NFL's competition
committee, supported the ban on celebrations like the Rams'
popular Bob 'n' Weave scoring dance. The next day, on Martz's
invitation, Billy Long, Southern University's strength coach and
the originator of the St. Louis players' infectious chant, "Gotta
go to work," addressed the team after practice. Also that day a
tape of the Rams' 49-37 divisional-playoff rout of Minnesota last
January played on televisions throughout the complex. "It was
great, because it reminded us of what we're capable of," said
Warner. "I mean, guys were yelling all day while they watched

In rebounding from his four-interception day the previous week
against the Panthers (his first game back from the broken right
pinkie he suffered on Oct. 22), Warner gave his teammates much
more to shout about by hitting his first 11 passes and finishing
with 27 completions in 32 attempts for 346 yards. He divvied up
the heroics with running back Marshall Faulk, who rushed 25 times
for 135 yards and a team-record-tying four touchdowns, and caught
six passes for 43 yards.

With a first quarter worthy of any they played last year, the
Rams scored on their opening possession, raced to a 14-0 lead and
never looked back. "We needed our emotion back, so I told the
guys yesterday to do what they do," said Warner, referring to his
teammates' repeated dancing of the Bob 'n' Weave, "and that I'd
pay the fines--gladly."

In all likelihood St. Louis must win its final two games, in
Tampa and New Orleans, if it expects to repeat as NFC West
champion, but in the first glorious moments after Sunday's win,
that didn't seem to be on anybody's mind. "All the haters get
back on board," screamed wideout Ricky Proehl over and over as he
entered the locker room. Watching nearby, Frontiere nodded.
"We're back to where we want to be," she said. "Don't you think?"

--Josh Elliott

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Running wild Faulk had 135 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.