Rams 31, Giants 10

The glamour boys played supporting roles as the St. Louis Rams clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Interception runbacks by Devin Bush and Mike Jones gave the Rams' defense its sixth and seventh touchdowns of the season, helping end the New York Giants' December winning streak with a 31-10 victory Sunday.

``Hopefully, we can score every game,'' Bush said. ``We shouldn't expect less.''

Kurt Warner added two touchdown passes to Az-Zahir Hakim and Marshall Faulk had 165 yards in total offense for the NFL's top-rated offense.

The Giants (7-7), who came into the game 9-0 in December in three seasons under coach Jim Fassel, got most of their 328 yards after the game was decided. Kerry Collins, who threw for 581 yards and four touchdowns the previous two weeks in victories over Buffalo and the New York Jets, handed the Rams (12-2) two scores.

The Giants are at home against Minnesota next week and finish at Dallas.

``We're still in it,'' Fassel said. ``Whether we won or lost, it's still going to come down to the next couple of games. I'm trying to get their focus as narrow and narrow and narrow as it can be.''

Bush, the stand-in starter at free safety for the injured Keith Lyle, intercepted an overthrown ball and returned it 45 yards to give the NFC West champions a 17-3 third-quarter lead. Jones, a linebacker, tied a team record when he scored his third touchdown of the season on a 22-yard return in the fourth quarter to make it 31-3.

All of Jones' touchdowns have come in the last three games. He also converted on a 37-yard fumble return against Carolina on Nov. 14 and a 44-yard interception return against San Francisco on Nov. 21.

``Our defense has been coming up big all season,'' Bush said. ``When you can score without your offense being on the field, that hurts.''

Entering the game, the Rams were tied for the league lead with 23 interceptions.

``On the first one, the timing was off between me and Ike (Hilliard) and he made a move I wasn't expecting,'' Collins said. ``On the other one, I talked myself into it. I had another play, but came back and looked for Ike and obviously made a bad decision.''

The Rams tied a franchise record for victories in a season set three times previously and won their eighth in a row at home, where they've rolled by an average score of 35-10, despite being held back by five dropped passes. Hakim compensated for two of the drops by scoring on catches of 3 and 65 yards, the first a somewhat controversial ruling after he was pushed out of the end zone by Conrad Hamilton and the latter a little swing pass that turned into a sprint.

Warner was 18-for-32 for 319 yards and now has 36 touchdown passes, tied for fifth on the NFL's single-season list.

Marshall Faulk surpassed the 2,000-yard mark in total yardage - he has 2,065 - with six catches for 97 yards and 68 yards rushing on 16 carries for the Rams. Last year, he led the NFL with 2,227 yards.

The Rams, who were 4-12 last year, came through with a rare opportunity to beat a winning team. The first 11 victories came against teams with a combined 42-103 record, and the losses came to teams a combined 18-8.

``This team was playing well and we beat them soundly, we beat them good,'' Warner said. ``If this doesn't quiet the critics, who knows? They can continue to doubt us all the way to the Super Bowl if they want.''

The Rams did it largely without their top lineman, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, who was ejected for a late hit midway through the second quarter. Pace, the first overall pick of the 1997 draft, drew a personal foul call when he shoved down defensive tackle George Williams at the end of a play.

``Next time I'll use better judgment,'' said Pace, who said he was retaliating for a punch. ``I got a little fired-up. It was an emotional game.''

Williams said Pace pushed him first.

``Then he charged at me and I just dumped him and the referee saw him,'' Williams said. ``I didn't do anything to him that he wasn't doing to me.''

Pace was replaced by Ryan Tucker, a third-year player and the backup center, with no career starts. Pace said it was the first ejection of his career, aside from ``maybe once in high school basketball.''

Collins was 21-for-37 for 273 yards and Amani Toomer caught nine passes for 162 yards. The Giants were held to a 23-yard field goal by Cary Blanchard in the third quarter until Collins hit Ike Hilliard for a 7-yard score with 4:48 to go.

The Rams outgained New York 226-94 and held the Giants to four first downs in taking a 10-0 halftime lead.

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