Rams' big-play offense disappears

Opportunistic defense bails out 121-yard attack

November 10, 2003|By Tom Timmermann | Tom Timmermann,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ST. LOUIS - With every incomplete pass, the boos grew louder for St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger. And to make matters worse for him, if he wasn't throwing a pass that found nothing but artificial turf, he was getting driven into the ground by the Ravens' defense. It was not Bulger's night, and he knew it.

"I played terrible," he said. "I put us in some bad situations."

Bulger endured his worst game of the season last night, completing 13 of 26 passes for 110 yards. He threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. In his seven previous games after taking over the starting spot from Kurt Warner, he had never completed fewer than 21 passes or thrown for fewer than 226 yards.

Somehow, the Rams won, 33-22, which, for an offense famous for its big plays, shows the value of clipping coupons. The Rams made the most out of very little by taking advantage of seven Ravens turnovers and Jeff Wilkins hitting four fourth-quarter field goals.

"That's the thing about this team this year," Bulger said. "We can overcome whatever part of the game isn't working, offense, defense, special teams."

Of course, Bulger had plenty of company in the offensive struggle department. Running back Marshall Faulk, returning to the lineup after missing five games with hand and knee injuries, found little room to run.

He finished with 48 yards rushing on 20 carries, an average of 2.4 yards per carry. His longest gain of the game was a 16-yard run that came on a third-and-22. Instant offense he wasn't. The Rams, who came into the game with a league-leading 374.5 yards of total offense per game, managed to get 121 yards, and every one of them was hard-fought. The Rams' previous low for total offense this season was 278 yards.

"Give credit to Baltimore's defense," said Bulger. "Ray Lewis impressed me even more than I thought. But that doesn't make up for it. I knew where I wanted to go with the ball, I just wasn't putting it where I wanted to. Fortunately, our defense was able to take my end of the bargain. ... This was a good test. It shows I have a lot to learn."

Not only was Faulk bottled up, but receiver Torry Holt, who had 45 receptions for 735 yards and seven touchdowns over the previous five games, was held to three receptions for 38 yards. Isaac Bruce had two catches for 13 yards.

"We weren't clicking," said receiver Dane Looker, who had three catches for 38 yards and a key 44-yard punt return. "There were a lot of three-and-outs, a lot of tipped balls. Things weren't going our way. Give Baltimore credit - they have a good defense. They stopped us tonight."

Bulger completed six of 11 passes in the first half for 47 yards, but his third quarter made that look great. He completed three of nine passes as the Rams saw their lead slip away. But when he needed it most, he found success, not with his two primary receivers, Holt and Bruce, but with Looker. On a third-and-10 at the Rams' 37, Bulger scrambled and hit Looker for a 24-yard gain. Two plays later, he connected with Looker again for a 6-yard completion to end the third quarter. That got Wilkins in range for a 49-yard field goal that put the Rams back ahead. Wilkens added field goals of 46, 48 and 27 yards.

"Normally, they're making me kick extra points," Wilkins said. "Our offense didn't have the day it usually has, but we were able to get touchdowns from our defense."

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