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Supporting cast lifts Rams

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ST. LOUIS — Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk were along for the ride for a change.

The St. Louis Rams' top stars didn't put up big numbers in Sunday's 45-17 playoff rout of the Green Bay Packers. Of course, they didn't need to, because the team's underrated defense intercepted six of Brett Favre's passes and returned three for touchdowns.

The Rams (15-2) had only 292 total yards, lower than any regular-season game. It didn't matter, because the third-ranked defense outscored the Packers.

So when the Packers deployed seven defensive backs, Warner simply backed off.

"When they were dropping guys deep, I just told myself, 'Just check it down and get what you can,' " Warner said. "It is a great luxury that you don't have to make great big plays."

Warner threw for 4,830 yards in the regular season, second-best in NFL history and an average of 300 per game. Against the Packers, he was 18-for-30 for 216 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Warner had back spasms early in the game, perhaps related to his bout with stomach flu a few days ago, and said his back was stiff throughout. His 50-yard hookup with Torry Holt was the exception rather than the rule, with his touchdowns coming on 4-yard passes to Holt and James Hodgins.

He didn't have problems with his voice, however. Warner didn't speak for 10 days after suffering bruised vocal cords in the regular-season finale, and he wore a specially designed facemask to protect the injury.

"Sounds good to me," Warner said. "Feels good. I still have my voice after screaming the whole game."

Faulk is the first player in NFL history with four consecutive 2,000-yard seasons and has been the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year the past three seasons. He settled for 129 total yards, partly with the help of yards gained during mop-up time, against the Packers.

Faulk had two major plays, a 38-yard carry that set up the Rams' second touchdown of the game and a 7-yard touchdown run that made it 31-10 in the third quarter. He ran for 82 yards on 16 carries and caught six passes for 47 yards.

"I don't think they came out and just said, 'Oh well, let's just let him have fun,' " Faulk said.

Low-key or not, it was a step up from his first six playoff games. Faulk totaled 147 yards with a pedestrian 2.4-yard average and 23 catches for 284 yards, with three touchdowns.

In the 1999 playoffs, the Rams beat Minnesota 49-37 without much from Faulk, who had 11 carries for 21 yards. He was neutralized in the NFC championship game against Tampa Bay, getting 44 yards on 17 carries, and in the Rams' Super Bowl victory over Tennessee, he had 17 yards on 10 carries.

And in St. Louis' wild-card playoff loss at New Orleans last season, he had 24 yards on 14 carries.

A third Rams Pro Bowler, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, also was a non-factor with one catch for 19 yards. Bruce said it had nothing to do with the Packers' plan to stop him.

"They didn't take me away," Bruce said. "I was open pretty much all night. We won, so no big deal."

That's because the best offense was the Rams' opportunistic defense, which has eight new starters and improved from 23rd in the league last year to third this season. St. Louis had five defensive touchdowns in the regular season.

Aeneas Williams, who returned two interceptions for scores in the regular season, had a 29-yard return for the game's first score. Williams made also had a 32-yard TD return in the fourth quarter.

Rookie linebacker Tommy Polley had a 34-yard return in the third quarter.

All those quick scores meant fewer chances for the offense. The Packers had the ball for 32:22, the Rams for 27:38.

"It was a little bit deceptive," Rams offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. "I don't know how many interceptions we ran back for touchdowns, but we didn't even have some possessions.

"I'm sure the time of possession was favoring them big-time."