NFL Nation: Az-Zahir Hakim

Marshall Faulk went to Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl, redefined his position, fueled the Greatest Show on Turf and wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His finest performance?

It's tough to find many more outrageous than Faulk's memorable effort for the St. Louis Rams during a 45-29 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in 2000.

Faulk finished the game with 208 yards rushing and 78 yards receiving, setting a career single-game high for combined rushing and receiving yards. He also scored twice on two-point conversions after the Rams lost kicker Jeff Wilkins to injury early in the game.

With Wilkins out, the Rams went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Atlanta 27-yard line with the score tied in the second quarter. Faulk ran up the middle for 16 yards, setting up the go-ahead touchdown.

The victory moved the Rams to 6-0 in their first season under Mike Martz, who called the running back's performance "incredible" and said at the time he couldn't find a weakness in Faulk's game.

This was back when the Rams felt as though they could score almost at will, and the evidence often suggested they were right. Facing fourth-and-15 in that 2000 game against the Falcons, Kurt Warner threw a 30-yard scoring strike to Az-Zahir Hakim. Who scores on fourth-and-15? Those old Rams teams did.

For pure impact, who could forget Faulk's 220-yard rushing performance against New Orleans with a playoff berth on the line in 2000? Faulk scored three touchdowns to give him 26 in 14 games that season.

"There's not a better player in this universe than Marshall Faulk," Martz told reporters after that game.

No one could argue.

Best Rams Team Ever: 1999

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
9:15
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Notable players: QB Kurt Warner, RB Marshall Faulk, WR Isaac Bruce, WR Torry Holt, LT Orlando Pace, WR/PR Az-Zahir Hakim, DE Kevin Carter, DE Grant Wistrom, DT D'Marco Farr, CB Todd Lyght.

[+] EnlargeWarner
Tom Pidgeon/Getty ImagesKurt Warner threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns during the 1999 season.
Analysis: The 1999 St. Louis Rams were tied with the Tennessee Titans in the final minutes of the Super Bowl.

Conventional wisdom called for a clock-killing drive to the winning field goal, but convention didn't appeal to the 1999 Rams. They had shrugged off losing their starting quarterback during the preseason. They had knowingly backed Warner without much evidence to suggest he would succeed. They passed the ball first when tradition called for establishing the run. They pushed the ball downfield when West Coast schemes were favoring shorter timing throws.

And so with the 2-minute warning approaching in a 16-16 game, the Rams went deep to Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown. The aggressiveness came with a price when the Titans, armed with plenty of time, moved within a yard of the tying touchdown. But the Rams won their way -- defiantly and with an offense few teams in NFL history could challenge for pure multidimensional flair.

The only team in Rams history to win a Super Bowl gets my vote for best team in franchise history. The 1951 version also won an NFL title, but that team finished the regular season with an 8-4 record. It played only one postseason game. Chuck Knox's Rams of the early 1970s were very good. John Robinson had some solid Rams teams in the 1980s. The 2001 Rams had a chance to be the best in franchise history, but the 1999 team separated itself by becoming the only Rams team to win a Super Bowl.

Dick Vermeil was coach of the year. Warner was MVP and Super Bowl MVP. Faulk was offensive player of the year.

This was a team of signature players and also signature plays: Most impressive win: For years the Rams had watched the San Francisco 49ers dominate them and the NFC West. That's what made the Rams' Week 5 victory over the 49ers so meaningful that season. Bruce caught four touchdown passes during a 42-20 victory as the Rams improved to 4-0. Fans wanted to believe after a 38-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals a week earlier. The blowout against San Francisco provided validation (no one knew the 49ers would finish with a 4-12 record that season).

Return to sender: Offense wasn't the only way the 1999 Rams found the end zone. Hakim averaged 10.5 yards per punt return with one touchdown. Tony Horne averaged 29.7 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns. The Rams scored seven touchdowns on interception returns and one more on a fumble return.

Honorable mention

2001: The Rams rebuilt their defense and made another run to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots kept St. Louis from winning another title and challenging for the title of best team in Rams history.

1973: First-year head coach Chuck Knox turned around the Rams quickly, leading them to a 12-2 record with No. 1 rankings in total offense and total defense. John Hadl tossed 22 touchdown passes with 11 interceptions in his only full season as the Rams' starter.

1951: The Rams won a championship for Los Angeles thanks to Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin and Elroy Hirsch. Four-time Pro Bowl fullback Dan Towler averaged 6.8 yards per attempt.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Former Rams receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce commanded spots on my NFC West all-decade team after leading one of the most-dynamic offenses in NFL history.

Larry Fitzgerald also seemed worthy after posting three 1,400-yard seasons and staking the Cardinals into a late lead with a dramatic 64-yard touchdown reception in Super Bowl XLIII.

With at least three worthy candidates for two spots -- and with receivers Anquan Boldin, Bobby Engram and Terrell Owens more deserving than any of the available tight ends -- something had to give.

"I'm hard pressed to come up with [a tight end] better than Vernon Davis," wrote regular blog contributor Mind of no mind. "But if there is nobody better, then maybe we should drop the TE from the team and go with 3 WR with Bruce."

Done deal.

Holt, Bruce and Fitzgerald became the receivers. That made more sense than adding Davis, Eric Johnson, Jerramy Stevens, Itula Mili or some other relatively unaccomplished tight end to the squad.

Such was the give and take as I sifted through nominations left on the blog and on my Facebook page. One request I couldn't quite accommodate: finding a spot for the legendary Kim Il Zong, a ka The Zonger.

A position-by position look at my NFC West all-decade team follows. Thanks to Adam from Mesa, Ariz., for getting the conversation started (download his suggested team here).

(Read full post)

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