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DEFENSE DELIGHTS WITH BIG PLAYS

The St. Louis Rams came to Buffalo with the NFL's fourth-ranked offense, one that can light up a scoreboard if given half a chance.

The Rams never had a chance -- particularly in the second half -- as the Bills showed that a big-play defense could trump a big-play offense.

The Bills shut down the Rams' vaunted offense, which was held scoreless in the second half of Buffalo's 37-17 victory Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills set a season high with six sacks, including a career-high three by strong safety Lawyer Milloy. They also came up with three interceptions. Defensive tackle Sam Adams and cornerback Terrence McGee made picks that snuffed out scoring opportunities deep in the red zone.

The Bills limited the Rams to 270 yards, 110 below their season average. Rams running back Marshall Faulk, one of the league's most dangerous all-purpose threats, was rendered a non-factor. His 6 yards tied the lowest rushing total of his career and his 0.5-yard average on 13 carries was his worst single-game effort.

"We felt good about being able to go out there and make some plays," said linebacker Takeo Spikes, who had an interception. "We came into this game with the mind-set that we could make some things happen defensively, and we did."

It was a huge bounce-back performance by the defense, which was shredded for 428 yards (208 rushing) in the Bills' 29-6 loss at New England last week.

The Bills' defenders said that game was an aberration and didn't paint a true picture of their ability.

"We just had to get back to us," Milloy said. "Last week wasn't us and was not how we expected to play. But in the previous games we had been feeling good about ourselves because we were playing well defensively. We just had to get back to that feeling."

The feeling of most observers was the Rams' passing attack would be a major challenge for the Bills' defense, especially with rookie Rashad Baker playing free safety.

But Baker played his position well and never got exploited on deep pass plays.

"My main goal was to come out, be calm and play my game," he said. "For the most part, I didn't get much action my way. But we got the win and I did what I had to do."

Still, it looked like Rams quarterback Marc Bulger was going to have a field day early on. With all-star wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt catching touchdown passes, the Rams scored three times on their first four possessions to go into halftime tied at 17-17.

But the Rams' offense was put on lockdown in the second half, gaining just 98 total yards.

Once the Bills built a big lead, thanks mostly to big plays on special teams, their defense went into attack mode. Faulk had nowhere to run and Bulger had little time to sit in the pocket and let his receivers run their trademark deep routes. Even when Bulger got passes off, he paid a painful price.

"I think it took us some time to get used to their speed and make a few adjustments," Milloy said. "I think early we sat back and they were able to move the ball, but once we added pressure you saw what happened. It ended up in sacks. After that, we mixed it up a bit, and that definitely went in our favor."

Middle linebacker London Fletcher credited the coaching staff for making the correct adjustments at halftime.

"From a game plan standpoint, offensive teams, if they have some success they're going to stick with those things they were successful with in the first half," said Fletcher, who began his career with the Rams. "The coaching staff did a phenomenal job getting us prepared to play one of the best offenses in the league."

The Rams had a chance to make a game of it in the fourth quarter with two drives deep in Bills' territory. But the first threat ended when Adams tipped a Bulger pass and then came down with the interception at the Buffalo 7-yard line. On the Rams' following possession, McGee made a leaping interception in the end zone on the 16th play of the drive.

Back-to-back sacks by defensive end Ryan Denney and cornerback Jabari Greer on the Rams' last possession put a capper on a tremendous defensive effort by the Bills.

"They put some points on the board, but it wasn't enough to win the ball game," Adams said. "Turnovers, big plays, minimizing their big plays, we gave ourselves a chance to win."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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