Injured Warner will finish rocky season on the bench

Friday, December 13, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- There will be no last chance to make a good impression for Kurt Warner, placed on injured reserve Thursday by the Rams.

The move came a day after coach Mike Martz suggested there will be an open quarterback competition next year if former third-stringer Marc Bulger, who led the Rams to five straight victories earlier in the season, picks up where he left off.

Warner, the NFL's MVP two of the last three seasons, admitted he was taken aback by Martz's comments. The coach has steadfastly been in Warner's corner all year, accusing those of backing Bulger earlier in the season after Warner recovered from a broken pinkie of being part of the "amnesia crowd."

"Yeah, it would surprise you just because he's always been my biggest advocate and I think he knows what I'm capable of doing," Warner said. "I think probably the issue here more than anything is Kurt getting 100 percent, and when he's 100 percent, then we go from there.

"If I'm not 100 percent, if I can't do what I've done in the past, then the best guy should have the job."

Warner finished with 11 interceptions and just three touchdown passes, a far cry from his 2001 statistics. Last year he threw for 4,830 yards, second most in league history, and 36 touchdowns in leading the Rams to a 14-2 record and their second Super Bowl berth in three seasons.

He's confident he'll return to that level next year, along with the Rams, and says he welcomes competition. Bulger's 106.0 passer rating would lead the NFL by a wide margin if he had enough attempts to qualify, and he has 12 touchdowns and four interceptions.

"The best person for the job should have the job, and I don't think there's any question about it, and I wouldn't expect it any other way," Warner said. "I wouldn't expect him just to say, 'You're the guy.' I have to go out and perform, and that doesn't bother me one bit."

First, he's got to get healthy. Warner will miss his second game with the latest injury on Sunday against the Cardinals, and he was sidelined for five games earlier in the year with a broken pinkie on the same hand.

Warner talked optimistically Wednesday about returning before the end of the season. But the Rams have concerns about his hand, which has been broken three times the last three seasons.

"I'd like to play, but you look at the situation and it's probably the best thing," Warner said. "You never want to be in a situation where you know you're not going to play the rest of the year and to sit out, but I want to get healthy and be able to do the things I'm capable of doing."

Warner has no doubt the injuries are just bad breaks, pointing out that his big 2001 season came a year after he broke his pinkie. He said a hand specialist has told him there should be no after-effects.

"Nobody else is worried that this is a longterm thing, that I'm not going to get back to normal," Warner said. "I'm not worried about that either."

He's not concerned about his relationship with Martz, either. A week ago, Brenda Warner said it was her idea and not Martz's to have her husband's hand X-rayed, but Warner said there's been no fallout with the coach.

"Our relationship is great," Warner said. "I always say we're going to be friends for a long time and nothing's going to get in the way of that, no matter what anybody says or tries to stir up."

Wide receiver Dane Looker was elevated from the practice squad to take Warner's spot on the 53-man roster. Like Warner, Looker is a former NFL Europe star, having won the World Bowl MVP last summer after leading the league in receiving.

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