Poor start overshadows Bulger's strong play

Thursday, September 30, 2004

St. Louis' young quarterback was nearly the hero on Sunday.

By R.B. Fallstrom ~ The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- On most Sundays, Marc Bulger's mad dash to the end zone might have been viewed as perhaps a defining moment in the career of a young quarterback. His 19-yard scramble up the middle on third down split the Saints' defense with 24 seconds to go for the apparent game-winning play.

"I think he's playing exceptionally well," St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz said. "He really did a great job in terms of responding to the challenge to move that ball downfield and get us in the end zone."

Instead, Bulger's heroics ended up as a mere footnote in a 28-25 overtime loss. And for Bulger, that's the way it should be. He's leading a 1-2 team, and that's the bottom line.

"I've always said all that matters is the record, and how I play doesn't really matter," Bulger said Wednesday. "Sometimes it's indicative of how a quarterback plays, but if we're not winning I'm not really concerned."

Bulger, who is 19-6 as the Rams' starter despite the loss, is saying the right things. He wants the team's fans to know losing hurts a lot.

"I know everyone's frustration, and we feel the same way," Bulger said. "It's our jobs, our livelihoods, and we want to win. It makes us sick to lose games like that."

He's doing the right things on the field, too, as evidenced by his impressive early-season statistics.

He's fourth in the NFC in passer rating, threw for 358 yards against the Saints, and held his ground in the pocket against a defense that knew he was going to throw. The Rams called 54 pass plays and 15 runs.

Opposing coaches have taken note of the development.

"He's got great arm strength and he knows what's going on," said 49ers coach Dennis Erickson, whose team plays the Rams on Sunday. "He's a guy that's getting better and better all the time."

The run was his fifth touchdown the last two seasons, so he's a bit of a dual threat too.

"He was running pretty fast," said wide receiver Isaac Bruce, who had a block to help finish the play.

Martz said Bulger was a bit stressed the first two games, given all that was put on his shoulders. Not anymore.

"He's shaking that off really well, and is on his way now," Martz said. "He's getting better and better and better. I'm very pleased with him."

Bulger downplays his 94.7 passer rating, which trails only Daunte Culpepper of the Vikings, Donovan McNabb of the Eagles and Brett Favre of the Packers, because it hasn't resulted in a lot of points. The Rams are averaging only 20 points per game and he has only three touchdown passes despite 915 yards in the air.

Part of the reason is the Rams are the only team in the NFL without a takeaway. They've also been crippled by mistakes that included five false-start penalties on Monday, two against offensive tackle Orlando Pace.

"Scoring every possession, that's our goal," Bulger said. "I know we're making a lot of mistakes and we've got to correct that because it seems to be the only thing holding us back right now.

"If we can get a little more disciplined we'll start scoring some points."

Bulger knows more balance would help. Martz was defiant on Monday about his heavy emphasis on the pass against the Saints, but Bulger said his coach mostly wanted to keep the pressure on the opposition however he could.

So far, Bulger has thrown 114 passes, and Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson have combined for 58 runs.

"I think everyone would like to see us run it more, the players and I'm sure coach Martz too," Bulger said. "I think what he meant was an aggressive style, and if the passes are all that's going for us that's what we're going to stick with.

"Whatever it takes to win, whether we run it every down or throw it every down."

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