St. Louis (9-3) at Cleveland (4-8)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Cleveland, OH
Temp: 64° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Mon Dec 8, 2003
  • TV: ABC
Preview | Box Score | Recap

With Marshall Faulk fully recovered and piling up yardage, the St. Louis Rams are starting looking like the team to beat in the NFC.

Faulk will be trying to reach the 100-yard rushing mark for the fourth consecutive game, and the Rams will try to do their part to earn a playoff berth when they face the Cleveland Browns.

St. Louis, riding a four-game win streak, can earn a playoff spot with a victory and a New Orleans loss or tie. If the Rams tie the Browns, they can secure a berth if Green Bay loses or ties and New Orleans loses.

Faulk had 108 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries last week, passing Jim Brown and Walter Payton and moving into fifth place on the all-time touchdown list in a 48-17 rout of Minnesota.

“That’s pretty good,” said Faulk, who has 127 career touchdowns. “Those are huge names, guys that I idolized, of course.”

Faulk, 30, missed five games earlier this year with a broken left hand and a surgically repaired right knee. He returned to the lineup against Baltimore on Nov. 9 and had 48 yards on 20 carries in a 33-22 win, but in the last three games has averaged 5.1 yards per carry for 311 yards and four touchdowns.

“I don’t know what all the way back is, but we are playing good right now and running the ball effectively,” Faulk said. “It’s just all working now.”

Marc Bulger was 15-of-20 for 222 yards with one touchdown and just one interception after throwing 10 in the last four games.

Bulger leads a passing attack the averages 261.7 yards per game, second-best in the NFL. The Rams, though, will need Faulk’s running to open up the field against a Browns defense that is fifth in the league with just 178.8 passing yards allowed.

The Rams’ 48 points against the Vikings were a season high, and they allowed their lowest total since beating Atlanta 36-0 on Oct. 13. St. Louis ran its home winning streak to 12 and is tied with Philadelphia for the best record in the conference.

St. Louis came into last week’s game having won its last two contests by three points or less. The Rams allowed the Vikings to outgain them 465-396, but sacked Daunte Culpepper eight times and forced him to fumble twice—one of which was returned 90 yards for a touchdown by Aeneas Williams.

“Regardless of how you win them, you win them,” Faulk said. “After all the close games, we were due for one of those.”

The Rams, looking to improve on a 3-3 road record, will try to win their third straight away from home. St. Louis had not won back-to-back road contests since Dec. 17 and 23, 2001, and will be trying to win three straight for the first time since that season.

The Browns are having nothing but problems with their running game, as tailback William Green’s NFL-imposed suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy was extended Tuesday.

The second-year back, who leads the team with 559 rushing yards, was suspended four games Nov. 8 for a violation involving alcohol. He was already enrolled in the second stage of the league’s treatment program.

Green, originally eligible to return to the team Monday, will remain suspended for “treatment purposes.” The league said commissioner Paul Tagliabue will decide when Green can return after consulting with medical experts in the program.

“William has some personal issues right now that he has to address,” Browns coach Butch Davis said. “He’s got to take care of these things. When those things are taken care of and resolved, we’ll decide exactly what William’s future is, but right now it’s all premature.”

Cleveland also took a hit at quarterback, as Tim Couch was knocked out of Sunday’s 34-7 loss at Seattle with a sprained left knee.

Couch, playing for the first time since Oct. 26, took over in the third quarter for an ineffective Kelly Holcomb.

“It’s sore, obviously,” Couch said. “Right now, we think it’s a sprained MCL. We’re hoping that’s all it is.”

The Browns lost for the fifth time in seven games and failed to score 10 points for the second straight week. The loss was Cleveland’s most lopsided in three seasons under Davis, eclipsing a 23-point defeat at Green Bay on Dec. 23, 2001.

“We got beat by a good football team today,” Davis said. “We didn’t play very well at times.”

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