NEW ORLEANS It had been a long time since the St. Louis Rams looked anything like the "greatest show on turf."
But Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce found the old magic, teaming with Marc Bulger on Sunday to give perviously winless St. Louis (1-8) a surprising 37-29 victory over a New Orleans Saints squad that hadn't lost in a month.
Bulger finished with 302 yards and short touchdown passes to Bruce and Drew Bennett. Running back Steven Jackson, recovering from a back injury, rushed for a short touchdown and even threw a 2-yard halfback pass to Randy McMichael for a score.
It was a demoralizing loss for New Orleans (4-5), which could have climbed into a first-place tie in the NFC South with a win. Instead, they gave up 34 straight points from midway through the first quarter until early in the fourth, falling behind 34-7 to a team that not only had yet to win this season, but hadn't even led on the road.
The most crushing blows came on third-and-long situations, when Holt routinely found a seem in the defense and Bulger found Holt.
The pair kept St. Louis' second touchdown drive of the game alive by hooking up for 21 yards on third-and-17. Early in the second half, Bulger found Holt for 40 yards on a third-and-15 play, leading to Jeff Wilkins' second of three field goals.
The Rams converted eight of their first 11 third downs through the first three-plus quarters.
Saints coach Sean Payton feared it was only a matter of time before the Rams' talented offense began to live up to its potential, especially after returning to relative health during an off week. Coaches placed rat traps around the Saints' training headquarters during the past week, a ploy to prevent their players from overlooking what they saw as a "trap game" against a winless but hungry and talented team.
Early on, it seemed to have worked. New Orleans took the opening kickoff and drove easily down field, scoring on Reggie Bush's second-effort run from 7 yards out.
What seemed like a promising start in fact marked the beginning of the end of the Saints four-game winning streak, which had gotten them back in playoff contention after an 0-4 start.
Looking long for David Patten in single coverage, Brees threw his 10th interception of the season this one to Oshiomogho Atogwe, on the Saints' next drive. That led to the Rams' first score on Jackson's 1-yard dive over the pile.
New Orleans had more problems with the St. Louis defense, now led by assistant coach Jim Haslett, who was the Saints' head coach from 2000-2005.
Haslett used to lash out at fans for booing when things got bad in the Louisiana Superdome during his tenure with New Orleans. But this time, his successful defensive calls were inducing the boos.
The Rams' pass rush overwhelmed the Saints on a momentum-changing first-half possession that began with Pierre Thomas' 64-yard kickoff return to the St. Louis 33.
First, Brees was called for intentional grounding. On third down, he was sacked and fumbled. Bush recovered near midfield, but New Orleans had to punt.
Another Brees interception under pressure, this time to linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, set up Jeff Wilkins' 49-yard field goal to make it 17-7, a score that held until halftime.
Brees finished with 272 yards and two touchdowns, but most of it came while New Orleans ran a hurry-up offense in the fourth quarter in a comeback attempt that ended when the Saints failed to recover an onside kick with a half-minute remaining.
Notes: The Saints chose Deuce McAllister, out for the season after reconstructive surgery on his left knee, as honorary captain for the coin toss. ... Starting left tackle Jammal Brown left the game with what was called a lower left leg injury late in the first quarter. ... Rams rookie running back Antonio Pittman, drafted by New Orleans and cut after training camp, rushed for 53 yards, including a 43-yarder that set up a touchdown.