St. Louis Look out NFL, the St. Louis Rams have a stingy defense to go with their precise offense.
Veteran Aeneas Williams forced two early turnovers as the Rams outclassed the Atlanta Falcons, 36-0, Monday night. Atlanta managed only 209 yards in St. Louis' first shutout in two years.
It was the Rams' first home shutout since 1993, when they played in California.
"Give credit to the defense," St. Louis receiver Torry Holt said. "A goose egg."
Williams, playing free safety this year for the first time after a stellar career as a cornerback, has 52 career interceptions, second to Oakland's Rod Woodson among active players. He picked off Doug Johnson's ill-advised first-quarter pass in the end zone, then knocked the ball free from Atlanta tight end Alge Crumpler and recovered the fumble in the second period.
Both turnovers set up long drives for points as St. Louis took a 10-0 halftime lead.
"A shutout is so difficult to do in the NFL, and the progress of this defense is truly amazing," coach Mike Martz said. "The young corners continue to make plays, we're getting pressure up front and excellent linebacker play. I'm very proud of our defense."
Marc Bulger threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns to Holt.
"I really didn't feel like I played an NFL game tonight," Bulger said. "I hardly got hit."
Lamar Gordon, in his third start this season replacing injured Marshall Faulk, rushed for a career-high 92 yards, and Holt had 11 receptions for 161 yards to spark the offense.
Veteran receiver Isaac Bruce displayed his versatility with the second pass completion of his career.
St. Louis (3-2) won its ninth straight home game and handed the Falcons (1-5) their first shutout defeat since 1993. In a span of four plays in the third quarter, the Rams had three sacks. They never allowed Atlanta, ranked 27th in total offense, to threaten to get coach Dan Reeves his 200th victory.
The Falcons have lost five in a row and are in desperate need of a healthy Michael Vick. Johnson, his replacement, made several critical mistakes, and the St. Louis defense even recorded a safety when Leonard Little nailed T.J. Duckett trying to run out of the end zone in the third quarter.
It was the fourth safety the Falcons have yielded this year.
Travis Fisher went 74 yards with an interception of Kurt Kittner's pass with 1:33 left to close out the rout.
Williams attempted to run his early interception out of the end zone, but got only to the one. It looked like an unwise move until Bruce went to work.
Bulger hit Bruce for 16 yards on third down, and after Gordon's 20-yard run, Bruce, on a reverse, threw perfectly to Holt for 25 yards to the Atlanta 29.
That led to Jeff Wilkins' 28-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead -- and also established the Rams' willingness to be daring.
The next St. Louis series was punctuated by a 33-yard completion to Bruce. On fourth-and-one at the seven, Martz went for it, but a pitchout to Gordon was snuffed by linebacker Keith Newman.
No big deal. Williams made his second big play and St. Louis took over at its 42. Bulger capped a 58-yard drive with a three-yard run up the middle.
The Falcons never were in it after that. Holt caught a 21-yard TD pass early in the third quarter and had a 14-yarder with 10:44 remaining.
Atlanta got some strong running from T.J. Duckett early, only to go away from him at critical times and flop. Duckett rushed for 38 yards in the first quarter and barely made a dent the rest of the way.
Jay Feely attempted a 60-yard field goal at the end of the first half, but Richard Angulo of the Rams blocked it. Otherwise, the Falcons were stymied by the Rams' suddenly strong defense.
"That's probably the worst game as a team I've ever seen in my life," Johnson said.