Bulger cools QB debate

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time in several weeks, the discussion about who should start as the Rams' quarterback has gone nearly silent.

Nearly flawless play by Marc Bulger in a blowout victory over the Vikings saw to that.

Bulger has had his share of problems, throwing 10 interceptions in the previous four games. But he was calm and cool in the 48-17 victory Sunday that kept the Rams (9-3) tied with the Eagles for the best record in the NFC.

Every Monday lately, coach Mike Martz has faced second-guessing about sticking with his young quarterback instead of giving benched two-time MVP Kurt Warner a shot. Not this Monday, the day after his decision was vindicated.

"Anytime you go through that type of criticism and you struggle like he has at times, and then come back and play very well, you can only grow from that," Martz said. "I think it's a testimony to his character, his competitiveness, and his leadership qualities.

"I think to be able to stay with the young man like that, I think it speaks volumes about how he has ended up through this."

Almost flawless

Bulger was 15-for-20 for 222 yards with one touchdown and one interception on a long ball that set up a Vikings touchdown, a call that Martz took the blame for. That, said Martz, was the only mistake Bulger made all day.

"It's a coaching error more than it is anything else," Martz said. "Other than that, I thought he was just flat outrageous."

Aside for that play, Bulger showed improvement in not forcing the action. On the third play of the third quarter he got an it's-about-time cheer from the home crowd when he threw the ball away. In the second quarter he hit Marshall Faulk for an 8-yard gain, checking off on a longer throw rather than risk a mistake.

"He had the awareness that Marshall was over there and he zinged it over to Marshall," Martz said. "Maybe two weeks ago that would have never happened. I thought he was exceptional."

Bulger still has thrown more interceptions (18) than touchdown passes (16). But he's also 14-3 as the starting quarterback.

"I don't care what people talk about," Bulger said. "We're winning and it's not about how I play every week, it's about whether the team wins or loses, and we're winning.

"So, nothing changes."

Warner led the Rams to their first Super Bowl championship after the 1999 season, and again led them to the Super Bowl in 2001. He's taken criticism for suggesting two weeks ago that Martz stick with Bulger because he'd have wanted to be treated the same way.

Warner's team spirit

Martz reiterated that Warner has been a team player throughout the season.

"He's not allowed it to be a distraction and he won't allow it to be a distraction, which I think is very important and significant," Martz said. "He's handling it as well as anybody could possibly handle it and the players understand that.

"That's a big message for all of the players. I think they respect him for that; I know they do."

The Rams seem to be peaking at the right time, having won eight of nine heading into the final month of the regular season. They're also at full strength, a rare state in the NFL.

Defensive end Leonard Little had four sacks against the Vikings, one for each game he missed with a torn pectoral muscle. Defensive tackle Damione Lewis also returned on Sunday after four games out with a high ankle sprain, and even a handful of injured special teams players are back.

"I guess I'm probably overstating it, but I'm tickled that we've got our guys," Martz said. "All of them."

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