ST. LOUIS -- In guiding the St. Louis Rams past previously unbeaten Oakland, third-string quarterback Marc Bulger threw three touchdown passes, dove for another and made no mistakes -- all the stuff of a poised leader.
So on Monday, Rams coach Mike Martz affirmed his faith in the sixth-round draft choice from West Virginia, tapping him as the starter for Sunday's home game against Seattle.
"He's such an unusual talent throwing the ball," Martz said of Bulger, who had never taken an NFL regular-season snap before leading the Rams to their first victory of the season, 28-13 over the Raiders on Sunday. "He's matured a great deal to match his talent. He's got a way to go, but he's on his way."
Bulger was pressed into action against Oakland as the replacement for Jamie Martin, Kurt Warner's backup who has been nursing a bruised knee. Warner, the two-time NFL MVP, has been on the mend with a broken finger.
With Warner as his biggest cheerleader Sunday, Bulger showed Warner-like precision and presence, completing eight of his first nine passes -- two for touchdowns -- and finished 14-of-21 for 186 yards with three TDs by air and another on an improvised goal-line sneak.
Martin healthy enough
Martin could have played against Oakland, Martz said, though his injured knee may have limited his effectiveness. So Bulger got the call and didn't disappoint, showing off what Martz called his "unbelievably strong arm," accuracy on deep throws, quick release and huddle leadership.
"When a guy's playing as well as he did, I think you almost have to (start him again)," Martz said of the 25-year-old Bulger, whose passer rating Sunday was 134.1. "You have to let him go."
Martz said Martin likely would be well enough to play against Seattle, if needed, though he didn't specify whether Martin would return as the starter once his knee heals.
Regardless, Martz on Monday still reveled in Bulger's stepping up against Oakland and doing something Warner and Martin hadn't done this season -- get a win for a team that was off to its worst start in nearly four decades.
A balanced attack
Against Oakland, the Rams sprinkled Bulger's passes around the ground game of Marshall Faulk, who ran for a season-high 158 yards and scored on a 10-yard pass from Bulger.
Never mind that Bulger's first NFL snap came after the Rams' stuffed Oakland on a fourth-and-1 at the St. Louis 3, setting up what would be Bulger's orchestrating a nine-play TD drive that covered 97 yards. The drive was the Rams' longest of the season and included the team's longest completion -- Bulger's pinpoint 50-yard strike to Torry Holt that set up the score.
"You can't say enough about a guy who comes in in such a big game and plays with such poise," Warner said. "It was a great statement for him -- a big confidence boost for him and the team."
Said Bulger, humbly: "I want to still keep things in perspective -- we are still 1-5."
The victory proved costly when the Rams' offensive line, already thinned by the loss of tackle Orlando Pace, was further weakened when left tackle Grant Williams broke his lower right leg and dislocated his right ankle.
On Monday, Martz said, Williams had a plate surgically implanted in the broken leg and "ended up having quite a bit of work on it." The 6-foot-7, 328-pound Williams, acquired by the Rams in August in a trade with New England, will be out four months -- effectively the rest of the season.
Williams was making his third start of the season at left tackle in place of Pace, who Martz said worked out Monday but hasn't fully recovered from a torn calf.
"I'm not real optimistic" about Pace's return against Seattle, Martz said.