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Rams ride defense, Wilkins past Denver

ST. LOUIS (Sept. 10, 2006) -- Jeff Wilkins ' nickname is "Money," as in money in the bank. Thanks to the St. Louis Rams' new-look defense, his franchise-record six field goals was just enough of a deposit.

Wilkins bailed out a shaky offense, accounting for all the scoring in an 18-10 opening victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday. In the process, he became the first Ram to score 1,000 points.

"He's almost automatic and when he misses one, you sit there and you're a little bit dejected because you think he's always going to make them," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "We know when the game's on the line or it's really, really important, he's going to make it. He has for years now."

The Rams' aggressive schemes on defense forced five turnovers. Jake Plummer's third interception, by Corey Chavous with 2:26 to go, was the clincher.

"They made a couple of big plays, but we didn't let it shake us up and say: 'Oh wow, here it goes,"' middle linebacker Will Witherspoon said. "We dug back in and stuck our feet in the ground and went back at it."

Plummer, who was 13-for-26 for 138 yards, expects Broncos fans will be clamoring for first-round pick Jay Cutler. The Broncos committed 16 turnovers all last season, and only seven interceptions.

"I'm sure they will," Plummer said. "They've been calling for him since he got drafted."

Scott Linehan's NFL coaching debut was a success, but much of it was owed to Jim Haslett, the new St. Louis defensive coordinator who was Saints head coach the previous six seasons.

"I couldn't be more proud of our team," Linehan said. "I think there's no such thing as style points in winning."

Defense ruled for both sides in a game that bore no resemblance to the last time the Rams and Broncos opened the season, a 41-36 shootout won by St. Louis in 2000. The only touchdown was a 1-yard run by Denver's Mike Bell in the second quarter.

Linehan was hired by the Rams after his success reviving the Dolphins' offense last season, and he helped the Vikings rank at the top of the league three straight seasons before that. His attack mostly sputtered in the opener, though, with Bulger looking shaky at times and the Rams mostly settling for short gains.

Linehan scoffed at criticism when the Rams' first-string offense scored no touchdowns in 11 preseason possessions. In the opener the regulars were 0-for-11 again, including the end of the game when they killed the clock at the Denver 6.

Wilkins, who tied his career best of six field goals with the 49ers in 1996, hit two long field goals, from 51 and 48 yards, and also connected from 26, 38, 29 and 24 yards.

"I always try to predict for myself to try and get ready, but six wasn't anywhere near the prediction this week," Wilkins said. "But I'll take it. I love the opportunity."

In the fourth quarter, Witherspoon tipped Plummer's pass for Rod Smith into the arms of Fakhir Brown, and Brown's 20-yard return gave the Rams possession at their 40 with 2:26 left.

Rookie Tye Hill, the Rams' first-round pick, and Chavous also had interceptions. Leonard Little had two of St. Louis' four sacks, forcing a Plummer fumble that ended up giving the Rams the ball at the Denver 3.

The Broncos' defense kept it from becoming a blowout, holding the Rams to only six points off three consecutive takeaways in the first half. St. Louis ran 23 straight plays in Denver territory at one point, but the offense kept stalling.

St. Louis held a 12-7 lead at halftime. Wilkins missed a 44-yarder on a fifth attempt in the half.

The Broncos' lone highlight came in the second quarter when coach Mike Shanahan, trailing 12-0 and frustrated by a lack of production, elected to go on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 31. Mike Bell got 2 yards and the Broncos ended with an 11-play drive capped by Bell's 1-yard run with 26 seconds to go in the half.


Wilkins' seven attempts tied Bob Waterfield's franchise record set Dec. 9, 1951 against the Lions. Waterfield set the previous franchise record of five field goals made in that game. ... Rams C Andy McCollum, who made his 156th consecutive start, sustained a serious left knee injury in the second quarter. ... Rams DT Jimmy Kennedy broke his right hand in the first quarter and played wearing a cast. ... Rams WR Isaac Bruce had five catches for 64 yards and passed Henry Ellard and Shannon Sharpe for 11th on the NFL career list. He has 818 catches. ... Broncos DE Courtney Brown was inactive with a knee injury. ... Denver WR Rod Smith had three catches for 34 yards, becoming the first undrafted player to total 800 receptions. He's 15th on the career list.

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