ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz couldn’t care less that his team finished .500. Somehow, they are in the playoffs.
The Rams clinched a postseason berth when Jeff Wilkins kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime to beat the New York Jets 32-29 on Sunday. They got a little help earlier in the day when Minnesota lost.
“This is why you coach, for moments like this,” Martz said after the Rams extended their up-and-down season. “It really is.”
The Rams (8-8) won a finale that, in the end, they needed much more than the Jets. For much of the game, they played more like the team that was supposed to be one of best in the NFC than the seemingly crumbling franchise that had lost four of five entering the final weekend.
Now they will play at Seattle in the first round Saturday afternoon. St. Louis won both regular-season meetings.
“We’ve just had a million things go wrong, and goofy things happen all year,” offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. “We kept fighting and fighting, and to get in the playoffs is one of those really sweet things.”
The Jets (10-6) qualified as an AFC wild card before the game even ended, when the Bills lost to the Steelers. They play at San Diego on Saturday night.
“I hate to lose getting in,” coach Herman Edwards said. “But we’ll take it. Now, all we have to do is get in the playoffs and win.”
Marc Bulger went 29-for-39 for 450 yards and three touchdowns, and Wilkins won it with 3:03 left in overtime for the Rams’ fourth playoff berth in five seasons under Martz.
Despite the loss, New York made the playoffs for the third time in four seasons under Edwards. But the Jets enter the postseason on a downer, having gone 5-6 in their final 11 games following a 5-0 start.
They also lost wide receiver Wayne Chrebet (concussion) in the first half, but Chrebet is expected to play next week.
Shaun Ellis had three sacks for the Jets. He also tipped a pass that Jonathan Vilma returned 38 yards for a score to give the Jets a 26-21 lead late in the third quarter.
“The feeling would have been a lot better had we won,” Ellis said. “Obviously, our mood is kind of like in the middle, so we just have to put this game behind us and get ready for next week.”
Curtis Martin had 153 yards on 28 carries, winning the NFL rushing title with 1,697 yards, 1 yard better than Shaun Alexander of the Seahawks while moving into fourth place on the NFL career rushing list. The Jets played to win in overtime, keeping Chad Pennington and Martin on the field. Doug Brien’s miss on a 53-yard field goal attempt opened the door for the Rams’ final drive.
“I think both teams showed they were playing for something,” Jets wide receiver Santana Moss said. “Everybody laid everything on the line.”
St. Louis got great field position at its 43, and Bulger needed only five plays to get the Rams in position for Wilkins’ winner. Wilkins split the uprights on first down after Bulger’s 22-yard swing pass to Steven Jackson.
The Rams won with a revived offense, scoring more than 20 points for the first time in seven weeks. They had scoring drives of three and one play in the first half, including a 44-yard catch by Torry Holt near the end of the half right after a Jets punt.
St. Louis appeared to have taken control early in the third quarter when Jackson broke a pair of tackles on a 20-yard run that made it 21-10, but the Jets quickly recaptured the momentum.
Jerricho Cotchery returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to cut the gap to four. Less than a minute later, Jason Ferguson stripped Isaac Bruce after a reception and Donnie Abraham recovered to set up a 33-yard field goal by Brien.
Vilma’s 38-yard return then put the Jets ahead 26-21.
“It wasn’t here-we-go-again, that’s just the way football is,” Bulger said. “It’s just a matter of stopping the bleeding.”
St. Louis retook the lead with 5:06 left in regulation, when two Jets defenders collided, allowing Torry Holt to break free on a 19-yard touchdown reception. Jackson’s conversion run made it a 3-point lead, but the Jets tied it when Brien kicked a 27-yard field goal with 3 seconds left in regulation.