Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist

The Rams took another big step forward Saturday -– in these playoffs and well beyond.

As the injury-racked Rams stumbled through their 8-8 season, we kept demanding more from the younger players on whom they must build future seasons. These youngsters were key to this season and to moving this whole program back toward that “Max Q” ideal.

Would the Rams miss the playoffs, then dismantle the roster to start over? Or would the kids finally come around?

During the last three weeks, we’ve seen plenty for fans to smile about. The Rams wedged into the playoffs through the back door. Then they advanced to the divisional round by beating the Seattle Seahawks, again, on the road, in the outdoors.


Best of all, young veterans led the way. That Torry Holt would become the top weapon at Seattle on Saturday was no surprise.

But how about Kevin Curtis? The second-year receiver tore up the Seahawks with four catches for 107 yards. The week before, he attacked the Jets with six catches and 99 yards.

He runs explosive routes, he catches the ball and he gets yards after the snag. How badly could the Seahawks use a guy like Curtis? They’ve got a bunch of speedy guys who play in a haze.

The last couple of weeks, Anthony Hargrove and Bryce Fisher have excelled at right defensive end, across from Leonard Little. Young defensive tackles Jimmy Kennedy, Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis are looking a LOT more like first-round draft picks.

Young cornerbacks Jerametrius Butler, Travis Fisher and DeJuan Groce have been strong since regaining their health. The linebackers have been better, although we’re not entirely sure Tommy Polley will merit enormous free-agent cash in the offseason.

If safety Adam Archuleta plays like his old self after his back heals -– a big if -– then defense coordinator Larry Marmie could be a LOT more popular in these parts next fall.

Against all odds, Blaine Saipaia has developed into a reliable right tackle. We’re not sure about left guard Larry Turner yet, but he has certainly done enough to come back next season.

Throw in the surprising Scott Tercero (a solid utility lineman) and suddenly the offensive line reconstruction looks easier. There will be work to do in the offseason, but not nearly as much as we expected earlier this season.

Finally, young quarterback Marc Bulger deserves a shout-out. Colleague Bernie Miklasz was right on when he said Bulger’s reputation would be made or broken in postseason play.

His predecessor, Kurt Warner, took the team to two Super Bowls. Before Saturday, Bulger’s big-game track record was pretty thin.

By rallying the Rams with a 313-yard passing performance -– on the road, in the playoffs, against a foe that knew him inside and out -– Bulger moved up a notch in the NFL pecking order.

His numbers at home and/or in unimportant games are gaudy. But he struggled at crunch time last season, at Detroit in the season finale and in the playoffs against Carolina.

So Saturday’s game, after his strafing of the Jets last week, raised his profile around the league. The whole league got to see Bulger play Saturday.

And the whole league had to respect his accomplishment.

The Rams are rolling again. They are in their fifth postseason in six seasons and their recent improvement suggests this excellence could continue for years to come.