By Bernie Miklasz
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Jan. 08 2005

SEATTLE - In last year's NFL playoffs, Marc Bulger threw three interceptions in
a bitterly disappointing, and shocking, home loss to Carolina. Bulger was so
unreliable, the shakiness caused a radical transformation in Mike Martz,
turning him into an arch-conservative for the first time in his coaching
career.

With a chance to win at the end of the fourth quarter by going for a touchdown,
Martz removed the ball, and the trust, and the game, from Bulger's grip. Martz
uncharacteristically settled for a field goal. But after Bulger's final
interception, the Rams lost in overtime.

Fast forward to Saturday.

The day Marc Bulger made up for all that went wrong in his initial venture into
the NFL playoffs, one year ago. The day that Bulger made the bad memories, the
doubts, and the ghost of a departed QB superstar all disappear in the course of
two late drives that enhanced his reputation.

On this day, with the Rams trailing by three in the fourth quarter, Bulger
picked this precise time and situation to take a firm step in his development
as an NFL quarterback. Bulger air-lifted the Rams out of trouble, pulled them
out of a crisis, and calmly directed a stirring 27-20 comeback victory over the
Seattle Seahawks.

On this day, there would be no fear, no worry, no pulling in the horns to
settle for field goals. On the final two possessions, Bulger got the Rams the
field goal to tie and the touchdown they needed to escape Seattle and move
forward in the NFC playoffs. To get those 10 points that kept the Rams going,
Bulger completed five of seven passes for 80 yards including the game-winning
17-yard touchdown on a beautiful play-action pass to tight end Cam Cleeland.
Bulger had to make the perfect throw, drilling it into a narrow opening just
before the arrival of a Seattle safety. Bulger was ice. He got the ball in
there, right into Cleeland's mitt, just a nano-second ahead of the defender's
fingertips.

On those final two drives, Bulger was money.

"Marc was throwing DIMES to people," wideout Kevin Curtis said.

Yes, 313 yards worth of dimes.

Let it be known that Rams are Bulger's team now. He's grown so much in the last
year. There would be no repeat of the Carolina caution and conservatism. On
this occasion, the football, and fate, were placed squarely in Bulger's hands
on a brisk Saturday afternoon in the Pacific Northwest.

And Bulger responded the way winners do. With his helmet transmitter on the
fritz, with his pass protection breaking down, with his offense in a rut, with
the lead slipping away, with all of his timeouts burned, with Seattle's active
defense jamming the Rams' running game, with 65,397 fans trying to ruin his
concentration with their desperate screams, Bulger floated peacefully into that
special zone where leaders steady their nerves and get things done.

"If you could see him on the sideline," Martz said. "If you want somebody to
take that last shot at the buzzer to win the game, you want it to be Marc. It's
just pure and simple, you want that guy in the game. That is his personality.
That's one of the things that makes him different and unique than most every
other quarterback. He is very special in that respect."

It was the 10th fourth-quarter comeback for a win in Bulger's career, and the
fourth such rally this season. And it wasn't easy. Seattle played strong
defense for extended stretches. After a sharp game-opening drive that ended in
a touchdown pass to Torry Holt, Bulger got knocked around. He completed only
nine of his next 21 passes, was sacked five times, and threw a terrible
interception. Seattle defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes was starting to get the
edge on Martz in a compelling duel of brash play-callers.

We looked up and the Rams' early 14-3 lead was gone, the season was almost
over. Just like that, the Seahawks led 20-17. Admit it, Rams fans, you were
thinking back to last year. You were thinking back to Bulger's yips against
Carolina. You were thinking that maybe he's just a nice guy, a pretty good
quarterback, who just can't get it done in the postseason.

Well, Bulger showed us. He showed Seattle. He showed a national TV audience. He
showed up, and put up, when it mattered most. And the expression on Bulger's
face never changes. Down by 10 points, up by 10 points, it doesn't matter.
Unflappable under the pass rush. Unflappable with the clock running down.
Unflappable when ABC interviewed him on the field moments after the end of the
game.

"As long a you stay focused, you don't start thinking about losing," Bulger
said. "You don't start thinking about all the people, all the millions of
people at home watching a playoff game. You have to stay focused on what you
do. Fortunately, I've been blessed that I can stay focused. Sometimes after the
game you look back and wonder how you do it. But, fortunately, when the
adrenaline is going, I can do it."

What would it take to get Bulger animated - electric shock? The Rams have won
three in a row since he returned from a shoulder injury. The team MVP, indeed.
Well, here's how you get a rise out of Bulger: congratulate him for winning his
first NFL playoff game. A bit irritated - but always a gentleman - he declines
to acknowledge the achievement.

"I don't care," Bulger said. "Like I told you, it's not about me winning a
playoff game. As long as I played as well as I could have, then I wouldn't
care."

Bulger cares, probably more than he lets on. Last year the Rams took the ball
out of his hands. This year, those steadier hands were just what the Rams
wanted, and needed, in a time of danger.