Monday, September 26, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

It isn’t often that a quarterback’s performance will get lost in the shuffle of a football game considering that no player on the field has as much impact on a game as the signal caller. It’s even more rare for the quarterback to be overlooked when he has a really good game or a really bad game.

But leave it to the quiet, unassuming Marc Bulger to have a tough, excellent performance and have it go pretty much unnoticed. After a tough start that left Bulger with a 20.8 quarterback rating at the end of the first quarter and more bumps and bruises than passing yards after being sacked twice and hit countless other times, Bulger rebounded to have one of his best games as a pro.

Coach Mike Martz said you can attribute that effort to Bulger’s toughness.

“Here’s what you have to consider about his performance, how we started, first of all,” Martz said. “He’s getting sacked and drilled back there to begin with. That normally would rattle any quarterback. I don’t care how good you are. Then, all of a sudden, you are behind by 10 points and you can’t get back to put your foot in the ground to throw, or they’re all over you. So, that can be disillusioning to any quarterback, and then to come back and do what he did the way he did it, I thought was outstanding.”

By the end of the day Bulger had 292 yards on 21-of-28 passing and three touchdowns for a rating of 128.9. It was amazing that Bulger was even able to stand upright by the end of the game, let alone posting those kind of numbers.

Bulger took so many hits that there were a number of occasions where it appeared he might not get up.

“I never go there, I don’t think about that,” Martz said.

But Bulger thinks about it, usually when he is hobbling his way back to the huddle after a particularly vicious hit.

Take, for example, the obvious forearm to the throat delivered by Titans’ safety Tank Williams that led to a Rams’ timeout. Or the dive at the knees from defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch that resulted in a roughing the passer penalty.

Those types of hits have become almost routine for Bulger.

“It seems like Murphy’s Law, get hit in the same spots that you don’t want to get hit in,” Bulger said. “That’s the NFL, everyone feels the same. It feels a lot better when you win.”

And Bulger was a big reason for that win. When the offensive line settled in during the third quarter, the offense began to click. Bulger rang up a perfect rating of 158.3 in the second half, going 13-of-15 for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions.

“I don’t know what to tell you about Marc, he’s just an outstanding competitor,” Martz said.

REPLAY REVISITED: Judging by Martz’s reaction to the replace challenge of the “lateral,” it would be easy to assume that he rushed right home and popped in the tape of the play.

But that wasn’t necessarily the case. It’s not that Martz didn’t want to see it; rather that he wasn’t able to.

“I don’t know how to use the VCR at home to be honest with you,” Martz said. “I have never run it before, so I couldn’t have.”

That didn’t stop Martz from losing sleep over the call that had him resembling Mount Vesuvius.

“I was anxious to see it on tape when I came in this morning,” Martz said. “You think about it all night long, especially if we had lost that one.”

Thinking about Martz’s reaction to the play had the Rams lost the game is enough to keep anyone up at night, but fortunately that was one aspect that nobody had to deal with.

After a night spent pondering the play, Martz made it a point to look at the tape first thing upon arrival to Rams Park on Monday morning.

So, upon further review, what did he see?

“It’s not a lateral,” Martz said. “There’s no question about it it’s a forward pass. It’s close. It’s a lot closer than what it looked on the replay, but his foot is on the white line and the ball is being released behind his foot. The ball lands right on the white line. It’s not a lateral. There’s no question about it.”

While Martz was disappointed in the ruling on the field and the ruling on his challenge, he was just as upset with himself.

“The worst call in the game was on the lateral,” Martz said. “We are on the 25- yard line. We had just run with Steven (Jackson), we should have come back and run one more time. That’s just a bad judgment on my part. I felt like they’d blitz us. You are much better off running it at that point and putting the game away.”

Although Jackson didn’t get to run the ball on that play, he did end up making the tackle after Peter Sirmon recovered the ball. That might have saved the game for the Rams as the defense came on to hold the Titans to a field goal.

But Martz said it was an unlikely source that might have truly saved the Rams.

“It was (defensive line coach) Bill Kollar, standing on the sideline and he’s going nuts,” Martz said. “He’s hollering get on the ball, get on the ball, that’s when they all turned and went to get the ball. I’m not sure the defensive players that were on the field would have done anything without Bill yelling.”

TURNOVER TURNAROUND: One year ago the Rams were the worst team in the league in terms of takeaways, finishing with just 15. But this year, the team has already forced almost half as many turnovers as it did last season.

St. Louis has seven takeaways in three games, ranking in a tie for 11th in the league in differential.

“Our job is to defend and get the ball back any way, by turnover or forcing a punt,” defensive coordinator Larry Marmie said. “Hopefully you can do that without them scoring a lot of points.”

That turnaround has been somewhat stunning, but it’s easy to see why it has happened.

“I think there’s a lot of things that make a difference,” Martz said. “The upgrade at linebacker and in the secondary from a personnel standpoint I think there’s no question about that, everyone is on the same page defensively. I think the defensive line is playing very well; they are putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make him throw off balance and getting the ball knocked out of there. I think those things all combined. We are playing fast. If you don’t play fast on defense and you chase that ball carrier and you get more than one or two guys in the pile, something good is going to always happen.”