ST. LOUIS -- Marc Bulger has become the indispensable man in the St. Louis Rams' offense. On Monday, the team acknowledged it by naming him its MVP for the second time in three seasons.
"He's just a terrific, outstanding quarterback," coach Mike Martz said. "He's one of the upper echelon quarterbacks in this league."
Martz said Bulger is approaching the proficiency level that Kurt Warner attained while winning two NFL MVPs and leading the Rams to a pair of Super Bowls in 1999 and 2001. Martz often said Warner, at his best, had the ability to slow down the action and he believes Bulger, who also was named team MVP in 2002, is on that track.
Plus, he's got a better arm.
"I think right now Marc is intellectually close to where Kurt was," Martz said. "The difference between the two is Marc has such a dynamic delivery. The ball gets out of there so fast, and he's easily the most accurate guy we've had."
Most telling about Bulger's play is what happens to the offense without him. The two weeks he was sidelined with a bruised throwing shoulder, the Rams totaled one offensive touchdown in a pair of losses.
Bulger returned in time to help the Rams (8-8) reach the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, throwing for 450 yards in Sunday's 32-29 overtime victory over the New York Jets. The yardage is fifth highest in franchise history.
He was at his best when the Rams needed him the most, too. Bulger was 3-for-3 for 42 yards on the game-winning drive, rolling out to avoid the rush on a 22-yard swing pass to Steven Jackson that set up Jeff Wilkins' 31-yard field goal late in overtime.
"He's a guy you want when it's all on the line," Martz said. "I think this is probably as well as he's played."
Bulger still isn't 100 percent, but he said the shoulder is good enough that it won't be a factor in Saturday's playoff game at Seattle.
"I'm happy it was a one- to two-week thing instead of the rest of the season," Bulger said. "You can't make excuses, and there's no point in talking about it. It's playable."
The Rams will be trying to beat the Seahawks (9-7) for the third time this season, and Bulger believes it can be done.
"I know the home team has an advantage and it's going to be tough," Bulger said. "But I think we're playing well enough to beat them."
Bulger was fourth in the NFC in passing behind Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb and Brian Griese, completing 66 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Despite the injury that forced him out for two games and most of a third, he still threw for 3,964 yards, tied for fifth highest in franchise history.
Running back Steven Jackson, who had 673 yards rushing as the understudy to Marshall Faulk, was named rookie of the year. He's only the second first-round pick in the last eight years to be named rookie of the year.
Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, in his second year, received the Carl Ekern Spirit of the Game award given to the player who best exemplifies sportsmanship, work ethic and commitment to his teammates. Tinoisamoa led the team with 145 tackles despite playing much of the season with a dislocated right shoulder.
Wide receiver Torry Holt, the team MVP last year, was named the Rams' 2004 Walter Payton man of the year finalist. Holt tied for first in the NFC with 94 receptions and was fourth in the NFL with 1,372 yards receiving.
* The Rams finished a distant last in turnover ratio in the NFL at minus-24. The next-worst team was the 49ers at minus-19.
* DE Bryce Fisher had two sacks in the finale for a team-leading 8.5, 1.5 more than the more heralded Leonard Little.
* Martz received a congratulatory telephone message from Cardinals manager Tony La Russa Monday morning, who pointed out that three of the last four World Series winners were wild card teams.