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Will Rams respond to Bulger's words?
QB questioned dedication of some of his teammates
BY STEVE KORTE
ST. LOUIS - Will some criticism from normally soft-spoken quarterback Marc Bulger be enough to keep the St. Louis Rams from getting mashed on Monday Night Football?
The Rams (5-7) will play the Chicago Bears (10-2), owners of the top record in the NFC, at 7:30 p.m. today at the Edward Jones Dome in a nationally televised game.
"It's a tremendous challenge for this football team on the biggest stage other than the Super Bowl and playoffs," Rams wide receiver Torry Holt said. "We'll either get embarrassed, or we'll do some embarrassing."
Bulger called out unnamed teammates for not caring enough about winning and having a nonchalent attitude after the team's 34-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
"It was really good to see Marc step up that way and express how he was feeling, and I think we as a football team need to take heed of that and go out and play accordingly," Holt said.
Bulger spoke out in an attempt to snap the Rams out of their current tailspin.
"I think a lot of guys agree with me," Bulger said. "I look at the tape and I see guys hustling everywhere. My only concern is there's a difference between having great effort and playing like it's your last game. Whatever message there was got out, and hopefully it helps."
The Rams somehow remain in the playoff race despite losing six of their last seven games.
Following Sunday's games, there's three teams with 7-6 records and two teams with 6-7 records vying for the two wild card playoff berths in the NFC.
"It's crazy, man," Holt said. "It's hilarious. Is the AFC that much better than the NFC, or is the NFC that tough of a conference?
"Every game for us has a playoff type of atmosphere, and it seems like it has been that way from the start of the season."
The Bears already have clinched the NFC North title, but they're still playing for first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Winning hasn't prevented the Bears from having controversy. Fans and media have been calling for the benching of quarterback Rex Grossman, who has thrown 10 interceptions and only five touchdowns in his last five games.
Bears coach Lovie Smith is sticking with Grossman as his starter.
"Guys have bad games from time to time and even more than one bad game," Smith said. "But you just have to stay the course, which we have done. Rex is a competitor and he's anxious to get that bad taste out of his mouth, and we're anxious for it to happen, too."
The Rams, who have gotten no sacks in their last two games, must find a way to pressure Grossman.
"He's shorter than I thought he was," Rams defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said Grossman. "He's about 6-foot, 6-foot-1. Sometimes he has a hard time seeing over the pocket, seeing past the lineman and guys in his face.
"He's going to struggle and he's going to be inconsistent when you put pressure in his face. That's going to be a huge key for us."
Rams defensive end Leonard Little expects the Bears keep the ball on the ground against his team's run defense, which ranks 31st in the NFL.
"We're expecting them to run the ball on all three downs, maybe four downs," Little said.
The Bears have two capable running backs in Thomas Jones, who has rushed for 977 yards and four touchdowns, and Cedric Benson, who has rushed for 372 yards and five touchdowns. They also have Adrian Peterson on their bench.
"Benson is a guy who definitely lowers his pads and runs behind his blockers," Rams strong safety Corey Chavous said. "I think Thomas Jones is the complete back. He'll catch the ball out of the backfield. He has major league shake and bake. He also has some strength that is very underrated.
"Peterson is probably a combination of those other two."
The Bears' top receiver is Muhsin Muhammad, who has caught 47 passes for 637 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bears' defense ranks No. 2 overall in the NFL, but they're No. 1 in perhaps the most important statistical category -- points allowed. Opponents have scored only 150 points against the Bears this season.
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is the heart of the Bears' defense. Urlacher has a team-leading 138 tackles this season.
"He's arguably the best player in all of pro football on defense," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "The man in the middle, he exemplifies that. He sets everything up. They play off of him.
"He's around the ball constantly, seems to always be a part of the big plays that occur for them."
Rookie Devin Hester, a second-round pick in the 2006 NFL draft, has four returns for touchdowns this season, including a 45-yard punt return against Minnesota last week and a 108-yard return after a missed field goal against the New York Giants on Nov. 12.
"He's the story when it comes to the specialists this year," Linehan said. "A second-round pick for a guy who just returns says a lot about his ability.
"I think that he's proving that specialists have a big place in what we're doing."