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Archive for Monday, January 28, 2002

St. Louis big favorite in New Orleans

January 28, 2002

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The New England Patriots will be clear underdogs again when they make their third appearance in a New Orleans Super Bowl.

One early line for Sunday's game between St. Louis and the Patriots has the Rams listed as 141/2-point favorites, which would be the third-largest spread in Super Bowl history.

The Patriots also were double-digit underdogs in their two previous trips to the Super Bowl, by 10 points against Chicago in 1986 and by 14 against Green Bay in 1998. New England lost 46-10 to the Bears and 35-21 to the Packers.

Certain to be one of the continuing story lines for Super Bowl week will be the status of New England quarterback Tom Brady, who twisted his left leg in the second quarter. He watched from the sideline in the second half as Drew Bledsoe led the Patriots to a 24-17 victory over favored Pittsburgh.

"We'll take a look at Tom's situation and we'll make an evaluation there," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll talk about it and make the decision later in the week."

Brady took over for the injured Bledsoe in the second week of the season and carried the Patriots to the AFC East title, then led a comeback from a 10-point deficit to an overtime victory in snowy Foxboro Stadium in the playoffs.

"Feeling good, feeling good," Brady said of his injury, "and that's all coach wants us to say about it."

The Rams and Patriots will meet for the second time this season. St. Louis won 24-17 on Nov. 18, with Kurt Warner completing 30 of 42 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns.

"We played them once," Warner said, "and we had a great game with them. They are a very talented team, a fun team to watch and play, and they do some different things. Belichick had a different scheme when we played them the first time, and I'm sure he will come up with something for us this time. It should be fun."

Rams coach Mike Martz also was impressed with Belichick in the first meeting.

Martz said the Patriots are "as well rounded and well coached in all three phases of the game as there is in the league. Belichick has done a great job of coaching that team. What a run he is on since we played them. It will be a terrific matchup."

After beating Philadelphia 29-24 in the NFC title game Sunday, the Rams are making their second Super Bowl appearance in three years. They beat Tennessee in 2000 after Warner's first MVP season.

He was almost as spectacular last season, but the Rams faltered because of a leaky defense that allowed 471 points, seventh-most in NFL history and the most ever by a playoff team.

Besides replacing eight starters, St. Louis hired a new defensive coordinator, Lovie Smith, and a new defensive staff.

In the playoffs, the Rams intercepted six passes from Green Bay's Brett Favre last week, then enabled Warner and the offense to rally from a 17-13 halftime deficit Sunday by holding the Eagles three-and-out in their first three series in the second half.

Only two Super Bowls had bigger favorites than the Rams at 141/2 points.

San Francisco was favored by 19 points in 1995 against San Diego, and the 49ers won 49-26.

The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts 16-7 as 18-point underdogs in 1969.

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