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St. Louis' Leonard, Lovell combine to ram Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- Getting a good look at their top two draft picks, the St. Louis Rams liked what they saw in their first exhibition game.

Brian Leonard rushed for a touchdown, Adam Carriker helped stop Minnesota up the middle, and the Rams beat the Vikings 13-10 on Friday night.

Kevin Lovell's second field goal of the game, a 40-yarder as time expired, gave St. Louis a victory that was set up by a run defense that allowed the second-most yards in the league last season.

Carriker, the first-round draft pick and new nose tackle, helped anchor a strong interior effort against Vikings rookie running back Adrian Peterson - who carried 11 times for 33 yards.

"By no means was it perfect, but it was a good start," Carriker said.

Minnesota's Matt Birk, who lined up across from him, told Rams coach Scott Linehan he was impressed.

"Matt said, 'He's a load. He's a handful. He's a heck of a player,"' Linehan said. "That coming from a Pro Bowl center says a lot."

The backup to Pro Bowl pick Steven Jackson, Leonard rushed nine times for 36 yards and caught five passes for 30 yards.

"For Brian we couldn't have scripted it better. We wanted to see him run the ball. We wanted to see him catch it. We wanted to see him protect," Linehan said. "It's a good start."

The second-round draft pick from Rutgers scored on a 10-yard run up the middle that gave his team a 7-3 lead.

"It was a huge hole. I told these guys I'm going to save my spike for the regular season. I just handed it to the ref," Leonard said.

With stalled drives and a defensive touchdown, the Vikings looked a lot like they did last season. Tarvaris Jackson turned in a promising performance, though, one that coach Brad Childress praised for his poise and decisiveness in the pocket. And they didn't turn the ball over.

"He had good command of the offense, and that's what you're looking for," Childress said.

Dontarrious Thomas had two of Minnesota's three interceptions. He returned the second one 82 yards early in the third quarter for the Vikings' lone touchdown.

But Ryan Longwell pulled a 42-yard field goal wide left, fumbling a chance to give Minnesota the lead at the 3-minute mark. Longwell didn't miss a kick under 46 yards all last season.

Jackson was sharp with 83 yards on 8-for-11 passing and 25 yards on two scrambles for the Vikings, an encouraging sign for a team that topped 21 points only four times last year during a 6-10 season. Even Troy Williamson, trying to regain some trust after a season filled with dropped balls, caught three of Jackson's passes for 32 yards.

St. Louis beat Minnesota 41-21 in the meaningless finale to the 2006 season, which served as Jackson's first start at the Metrodome. He watched film of that game "10 or 12" times to get ready for this.

"It was just so exciting to be out here. I love playing at home," Jackson said, adding: "Even though it was a preseason game, I couldn't sleep last night."

But the Rams were tough to run on. The Vikings failed to move the chains on five of seven third downs in the first half. Longwell's 30-yard field goal was all the starting offense, minus Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson, mustered while playing through most of the second quarter.

It was the defense, once again, that contributed the most. Dwight Smith intercepted Marc Bulger's tipped pass -- Ben Leber got his hand on it after a strong rush by Ray Edwards forced a throw -- late in the first quarter at the Vikings 20-yard line.

Thomas caught a last-second heave into the end zone by Ryan Fitzpatrick on the last play of the first half, and Minnesota's top backup linebacker picked off Fitzpatrick again in the third quarter to make it 10-7 Vikings.

"For the first performance of the year, I feel very confident we're going to get there," Leber said, adding: "We showed that we kind of picked up where we left off."

Bulger, who recently cashed in on his best NFL season with a six-year, $65 million contract extension that included $27 million guaranteed, was 6-of-7 for 42 yards.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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