Opening drive was a sign of what's ahead, Warner says

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Kurt Warner is looking again like a two-time MVP instead of the scattershot quarterback who was 0-6 last year as the Rams' starter.

Warner's stint in Monday night's 26-16 exhibition victory over the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers was short but sweet for a team intent on getting back to the top. He was 7-for-7 for 55 yards in the Rams' opening series against the NFL's best defense, setting up a field goal.

"He was really, really sharp," coach Mike Martz said. "He played so well that series. That's Kurt."

Warner wasn't perfect:He fumbled a first-down snap to help short-circuit the end of the drive. But his only complaint was that he wasn't ready to leave the game. He hoped to play most -- if not all --of the first half after getting only one short series in the exhibition opener last week against the Raiders.

"I wish I could have played a little longer," Warner said. "I got into a rhythm and was seeing things well.

"I'm almost surprised I felt that good that early."

There weren't any long balls in the drive with a long completion of 17 yards on the opening play to Torry Holt. But that was because of the Bucs' defense.

So Warner didn't try to get greedy.

"We throw it down the field more than anybody in the league and that's what we're good at, but there's certain teams where you've just got to do what you have to do," Warner said. "We were very patient and consistent."

Warner has attracted numerous critics anxious to see more of Marc Bulger since last season, when he threw only three touchdown passes to go with 11 interceptions. Bulger was 6-1 as the starter.

Martz refers to the critics as "worrywarts."

There were extenuating circumstances in the Rams' 0-5 start last year. The offensive line protection was poor at the start of the season, particularly right tackle John St. Clair, and Warner wasn't able to get comfortable in the pocket.

Warner got rocked on his second play in the opening exhibition by the Raiders' Jon Parrella. But against the Bucs, he wasn't even touched. The line did the job even without holdout tackle Orlando Pace and his injured backup, Grant Willliams, and after center Dave Wohlabaugh left with a broken left thumb.

"That's the way we like it, we don't like those guys getting shots," guard Adam Timmerman said. "You've got to have those guys healthy come September."

The Bucs said it was impossible to get to Warner because he was throwing off three-step drops and sometimes with no drop at all.

"They can't throw the ball much quicker than they did," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "He's got an incredibly quick release and he sees things extremely well."

Warner thrived without his top receiver and blocking back, Marshall Faulk. Warner and Bulger were a combined 13-for-13 for 137 yards in the first half, with Holt catching six passes for 52 yards.

"It'll be over tomorrow, but it was Tampa Bay and it wasn't a team that was struggling like Houston or somebody," Bulger said. "We beat a good team and our ones played well against their ones."

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