Games provide thrills, chills

Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith scores the touchdown that beat St. Louis.

The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 1:58 a.m.

The St. Louis Rams went out of their way to enter overtime with the Carolina Panthers on Saturday. Receiver Steve Smith gave Rams fans a long off-season to second-guess their coach.

With St. Louis trailing by three with a first down at Carolina's 15 with 39 seconds to go and one timeout remaining, coach Mike Martz inexplicably decided to play it safe before the Edward Jones Dome crowd.

Instead of trying to crack the end zone, he allowed the clock to run down to three seconds to set up Jeff Wilkins' tying 33-yard field goal.

That set up a wild overtime, which saw field-goal misses of 45 yards for the Panthers' John Kasay and 53 yards for Wilkins.

Then, on the first play of the second overtime, Jake Delhomme connected with Smith for a 69-yard touchdown pass and a 29-23 victory.

The winner of today's Green Bay-Philadelphia game at 4:45 p.m. will meet Carolina (13-5) in next Sunday's NFC championship.

Meanwhile, in Foxboro, Mass., there were no indoor comforts. In a game where temperatures dipped to 2 degrees, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 46-yard field goal with 4:06 left to give New England (15-2) a 17-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans (13-5) and send the Patriots, owners of a 13-game win streak, back to the AFC title game.

They will next meet the winner of today's Indianapolis-Kansas City game, which starts at 1 p.m.

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