By Bernie Miklasz
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)
---- — NEW ORLEANS — Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk admits it: He’s still not over the Rams “being cheated” in a bitter loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 36.
The game was played here, in Faulk’s hometown. And Sunday’s Super Bowl between San Francisco and Baltimore will be the first played at the Superdome since the Patriots upset the “Greatest Show” Rams 20-17.
“Am I over the loss? Yeah, I’m over the loss,” Faulk told Tom Curran of CSNNE.com. “But I’ll never be over being cheated out of the Super Bowl.”
In the interview with Curran, Faulk initially claimed that he had only pleasant memories of competing in the Super Bowl because he only dwells on the 1999 Rams’ victory over Tennessee in the 34th Super Bowl.
Curran, however, told Faulk that Patriots fans believe he’s still ticked off over losing to New England and as a result his disdain comes across in his Patriots-related commentary on the NFL Network.
“They misunderstand,” Faulk said. “Am I over the loss? Yeah, I’m over the loss. But I’ll never be over being cheated out of the Super Bowl. That’s a different story. I can understand losing a Super Bowl, that’s fine ... but how things happened and what took place.”
What took place: a former Patriots employee accused the Patriots of videotaping the Rams’ walkthrough at the Superdome on the day before Super Bowl 36. But after investigating, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ruled there was no evidence of the Patriots’ taping the Rams.
To this day, some Rams players and coaches from the 2001 team believe they were wronged and that the NFL covered up the Patriots’ tactics to avoid additional embarrassment for the league.
“If you lost a game and your brother cheated you,” Faulk told Curran, “you’ll remember that.”
The walkthrough allegation was an extension of the “Spygate” scandal that got the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick in big trouble with the NFL. After handing down punishments that included $750,000 in fines and the loss of a first-round draft pick, in bringing the matter to a close, Goodell curiously ordered the destruction of all Spygate evidence.
“Obviously, the commissioner gets to handle things how he wants to handle them,” Faulk said, “but if they wanted us to shut up about what happened, show us the tapes. Don’t burn ‘em.”
Goodell later said he destroyed the tapes because what they showed was “totally consistent with what the team told me.” He added, “It is something done widely in many sports. I think it probably had limited, if any effect, on the outcome of games.”
That wasn’t good enough for Faulk, who had more to say. Let’s just say he’s suspicious. The alleged taping supposedly happened when the Rams were lining up to fine-tune the red zone offense that was part of the plan against New England.
“I understand Bill (Belichick) is a great coach,” Faulk told Curran. “But No. 13 (Kurt Warner) will tell you. Mike Martz will tell you. We had some plays in the red zone that we hadn’t ran (before.) I think we got to fourth down, and we ran three plays that we hadn’t ran, that Mike drew up for that game — Bill’s a helluva coach ... we hadn’t ran them the whole year.”
(Translation: Faulk was saying that the Patriots were ready to defend those plays.)
“It’s either the best coaching in the world when you come up with situations that you had never seen before,” Faulk said. “Or you’d seen it and knew what to do.”
(It should be noted that the Rams were 1 for 1 in their red zone opportunities during the game.)
Faulk later softened his stance by praising the New England franchise including owner Robert Kraft. But he wasn’t done with Spygate just yet. And he compared the gravity of Spygate to the “Bountygate” sanctions that included a one-year suspension of New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Faulk said: “Am I bitter about how that went? Am I bitter about how the league handled them taping people? If Bountygate was that bad and Sean got suspended for a whole year? If we want to talk about some unfair assessment of how we’re assessing things? Man.”
The Rams lost despite outgaining the Patriots 427-267.
Faulk left out a few things:
Mike Martz’s playcalling was awful. The Patriots lined up in a nickel or dime defense with extra pass defenders on 75 percent of the Rams’ plays. Belichick correctly concluded that Martz wouldn’t have the patience or discipline to stick with running the football. Indeed, the Rams attempted 47 passes and only 22 runs.
The Rams were a minus 3 in the turnover ratio. Kurt Warner was intercepted twice, and one of the picks was returned for a touchdown by Ty Law on arguably the game’s biggest play. Wide receiver Ricky Proehl lost a fumble, which was rare for him. The Patriots didn’t commit a turnover.
New England’s pick six originated at the line of scrimmage, with Rams’ right tackle Rod Jones missing a block on blitzer Mike Vrabel, who slammed into Warner as he released the throw. The ball fluttered easily into Law’s arms. Moments later the Patriots had a 7-3 lead with 8:49 left in the second quarter. What’s notable about this was Martz’s decision to bench Ryan Tucker and go with Jones at RT even though Tucker played decently in 2001. Jones was terrible.
Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith had his unit play soft on the Patriots winning field goal drive instead of trying to put some heat on the young quarterback Tom Brady.
If the Rams have a beef, it’s with the officiating. Belichick told his defenders to clutch, grab, hold and otherwise impede the Rams receivers — and knock down Faulk when he circled out of the backfield to catch passes. Belichick wisely understood that the NFL officials wouldn’t want to litter the Super Bowl with frequent penalty flags and dull the entertainment with frequent stoppages.
It was a smart play by Belichick that paid off immediately when Torry Holt was held on the Rams’ opening drive. Holt couldn’t reach a deep pass that would have gone for an easy touchdown. The obvious penalty was ignored, and the Patriots had even more motivation to mug Rams receivers the rest of the day. In one of the most comical and preposterous statistics in Super Bowl history, the Patriots were penalized only five times for 31 yards. But I don’t blame Belichick for that. His strategy was brilliant. The officiating crew wimped out, and that’s on them.
But in my opinion, more than anything the Rams blew the game because of coaching errors and turnovers.