By Jim Thomas
Friday, Dec. 01 2006

Out of all the possible influences on Marc Bulger's career, who would have
thought words of wisdom from Billy Joe Tolliver would help in the closing
minutes against San Francisco?

In 2000, Bulger was a rookie quarterback for New Orleans. The Saints were
playing their preseason opener in Minnesota. Tolliver, a journeyman
quarterback, came off the bench late in what was a tight contest.

"He said, 'I'm going to win this game checking the ball down. Watch,'" Bulger
recalled. "He's a 15-year vet or something. He went in, checked the ball all
the way down the field. We kicked a field goal and won it. I never forgot that."

The morale of the story: If there's a couple of minutes left in a tight game
and teams are playing soft, "prevent" coverage, there's no need to force the
ball or get greedy.

If you check the ball down to backs and underneath receivers, "you're going to
get 10 yards, and that's 10 percent of the field each time," Bulger said.

And so it was Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. Trailing by four, the Rams took
over on their 20 with 3:54 remaining and all three timeouts. Even though the
first play of the drive resulted in a 10-yard sack, Bulger and the offense
maneuvered downfield for a touchdown with 27 seconds left, pulling out a 20-17
victory over the *****.

"Marc was nine for nine on that last drive, and the ball's going different
places," coach Scott Linehan said. "He was basically going everywhere he needed
to go."

Steven Jackson caught four check-down passes for 25 yards; backup running back
Stephen Davis caught one for 11. Torry Holt caught a short pass; Isaac Bruce
had two clutch catches. Mixed in were two fourth-down runs by Jackson. And then
Kevin Curtis caught the game winner.

"Marc had a great tempo about him," Linehan said. "He had such a great demeanor
in that situation. You don't ever feel like it's something that's not possible
with him. Because he's got ice water in his veins."

Fiery quarterbacks such as Brett Favre can be very effective; but as Linehan
has seen from Bulger, ice water works, too.

"I really never see Marc rattled," Linehan said. "That's not his personality or
his temperament. I think that's what makes him as good as he is.

"He just brings calmness ... a security blanket to the rest of the group, that
as bad as things may seem, or as good as they may seem, he stays the same. I
think that creates a lot of consistency with his performance. Not a lot of
quarterbacks have that. It's tough for people to remain that way because it's
such a physical, emotional game. He maintains that almost all the time."

Once in a while Bulger will let his guard down and exhibit some emotion. Like a
smile after a big play. Or he might spike the ball into the turf after a
false-start penalty.

But he has been around long enough that he realizes things can change in a
hurry. That's why Bulger wasn't ready to celebrate Sunday until the final

"There were still (27) seconds," Bulger said. "Earlier in my career, I would've
been excited a lot earlier. But I've seen too many things New Orleans two
years ago."

Bulger made a dramatic 19-yard TD run two years ago against the Saints and then
completed a 2-point conversion pass to Curtis. With 28 seconds remaining, that
seemingly gave the Rams a 25-22 victory. But under then head coach Jim Haslett,
the Saints sent the game into overtime with a game-tying field goal and then
beat the Rams 28-25 in OT.

This season, Bulger has seen last-second heroics go for naught against Seattle
twice. Holt's amazing 67-yard TD catch Oct. 15, and Jackson's bull-dozing
14-yard TD run Nov. 12 were both trumped by last-second field goals by Josh
Brown. If anything, Bulger has learned to never say never in the NFL. So he
isn't willing to read too much into what happened last week against San
Francisco. Not yet, anyway.

"You never know when things like that can change a season," Bulger said. "It
was only one game, and we know that there are five games left and we're still
under .500. So we've got a long way to go."

For a few anxious moments against the *****, it looked as if Bulger's season
was over. Late in the first half, he lay crumpled on the turf after taking a
crushing hit from ***** lineman Bryant Young.

"I knew that his ribs were bothering him," Linehan said. "You know he's hurt.
If he's laying on the ground, you know there's something wrong."

That's because Bulger almost always gets up quickly. As bad as it looked
Sunday, within a minute or two Bulger was on the sideline, warming up. It was
in true Bulger fashion that he played down the rib injury, which has been
bothering him the past few weeks.

"It really hasn't been an issue," Bulger said.

Wouldn't the mere fact that he has needed painkilling injections before the
past several games indicate the ribs are an issue?

"I bet a lot of guys in here are on pain-killers," said Bulger, shrugging. "I
don't think it's possible to go through a 16-game season without one or two
weeks having to get something to help out."