By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Nov. 03 2008
In victory or defeat, Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson are always the most
interesting guys in the Rams locker room. Bulger, the quarterback, is the
conservative, calculated introvert; Jackson, the power running back, is the
definitive swashbuckling extrovert. Bulger often dishes details in quiet
moderation, dodging around controversy like a nimble dancer. Jackson often
hurls himself directly into the teeth of a maelstrom with bold proclamations.

But in the eyes of some St. Louis Rams fans, these two conflicting
personalities will always be one and the same. In good times and bad, in
victory or defeat, Bulger and Jackson wear the dreaded labels of The
Replacement Players, never to be judged for who they are, but always for who
they are not.

Bulger isn't Kurt Warner.

Jackson isn't Marshall Faulk.

On Sunday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome, they both heard and felt the
wrath of those unsatisfied fans throughout the course of a 34-13 loss to
Warner's Arizona Cardinals. Any time the Cardinals come to town, Bulger knows
what to expect. He is going to be measured (and drawn and quartered, too) by
the scoreboard and the stat sheet comparison with the Super Bowl hero he
replaced six seasons ago.

"If you want to put the blame on me (for why the offense struggled), well, I
don't care," Bulger said in a quiet but combative voice. "Oh, I know everyone's
going to say it's my fault. They're going to say I'm throwing off my back foot
or crap like that. But you know what? I don't care what people say. All I care
about are what my teammates and my family says. Everyone else? I don't give a
damn."

After seven years of this never-ending Bulger vs. Warner saga, the Rams QB no
longer concerns himself with trying to win an unwinnable public debate. Those
who love Warner will always love Warner, and bash Bulger. He gets that better
than most. He knows that nothing shy of five Super Bowls and a Hall of Fame
induction will get the haters off his back. He also knows that games like this
will supply ammunition to those who always seek to praise his good friend at
his expense.

So as he stood in front of his locker stall, he prepared for the barrage
because he knew there was no question that the former understudy was outplayed
by his old mentor. Warner threw for more yards (342 to 186), had a better
completion percentage (67 percent to 48 percent), a higher pass-efficiency
rating (120.0 to 60.9), and was never harassed or frustrated by the pass rush
like Bulger was. Warner is running one of the NFL's most potent offenses, and
Bulger is laboring with one of the league's worst outfits (28th).

On Sunday, that Rams offense turned from bad to worse. Within the first few
minutes, Bulger was stuck with no running game to speak of. After Jackson was
cleared to play during warm-ups, it quickly became apparent that he was still
hampered by his strained thigh muscle. It limited him to 17 yards on seven
carries. Then on the first play of the game, backup Antonio Pittman pulled his
hamstring. He gained 12 yards on 10 carries, and third-string tailback Travis
Minor suffered a concussion on special teams not long after that.

No running game. No pass-blocking. No chance. A quarterback's worst nightmare.

Bulger already was working behind an offensive line that can barely protect him
under the best of circumstances. Now that porous unit was expected to form a
protective shield around him with an aggressive Arizona defense smelling blood.
Predictably, Bulger's game plan went completely into disaster relief mode. He
completed only nine passes through the third quarter (16 of 33 for the game)
and never seemed to have time in the pocket.

It wasn't always the pass rush that cost Bulger. After a while, he seemed to
be dialing up nothing but high-risk, mostly unsuccessful throws to his talented
but inexperienced group of young wide receivers. Most of them often fluttered
to the ground, or were terribly executed (the 40-yard interception return for a
TD by Arizona's Antrel Rolle was an incredibly poor decision), and caused
repeated boos from some of the 61,303 spectators.

"I wish I had (Rolle's interception) back," Bulger said. "But I knew I had to
take risks and that made us one-dimensional. But I also understand my role in
this situation. If it means I have to bear the blame for the mistakes we make
this year, I'll take the blame. If it means getting all those talented young
(receivers) on the field gaining experience, well, I'll take that because I
know that they're all learning so much now. And by this time next year, whew,
they're gonna be great weapons. So let people say whatever they want about me
now. ... I'll deal with the heat."

What some people are saying now is that because Warner, 37, looks like a new
man and Bulger, 31, looks constantly besieged, the Rams must have made a
mistake letting Warner go. Well, they didn't. Six years ago, Warner was a
different man. He was battered physically and emotionally, and that got him
benched. Then he went to New York, where he struggled and was benched, too. He
finally landed in Arizona, and has had time to recover from the damage his body
suffered running Mike Martz's high risk-high reward offense. Now that the
cobwebs have cleared and he's playing at Pro Bowl and potential league MVP
levels again, it doesn't mean he should have been a Ram for life.

There you go. That ought to give you something to talk about.