Rams coach Mike Martz has said that Kurt Warner's his guy and that Marc Bulger, the hottest quarterback in the NFL (107.4 passer rating), will go back to the bench when Warner is able to return from his broken right pinkie. I think loyalty is a wonderful thing, but if I were Martz, here's what I would do.
First, I'd get tape of the last three St. Louis seasons and compare Warner's play against his first four games this year. Then I'd announce that Warner isn't ready. And every week I'd keep announcing the same thing, unless Bulger loses his magic, which I don't think he will.
No one under the wide blue sky will convince me that Warner was physically sound before he broke the finger. His ball was fluttering badly. He was inaccurate. In his three previous years he had put up spectacular ratings of 109.2, 98.3 and 101.4. This year that number nose-dived to 66.4. All sorts of reasons were offered, except the one that was so obvious when you got a look at those meatballs he was throwing. Something was hurting.
Oh, you heard all sorts of excuses for the 0-4 record when he was running the show—the Rams' overconfidence, their lack of enthusiasm, injuries, unsettled personnel, etc. But how come they suddenly caught fire when Bulger was the quarterback and won four straight? And you think it was easy for the new guy? Both tackles were hurt against the Raiders on Oct. 13, and personnel had to be juggled. Marshall Faulk was out with a sprained ankle on Sunday when Bulger, who finished with 453 passing yards and four touchdowns, led St. Louis on its two scoring drives in the last five minutes to beat San Diego. And now Martz wants to bench him when Warner is ready to come back? Puh-leeze!
?The Rams' playoff hopes are alive but fragile. Starting with Chicago on Monday night, they play five of their next six games against teams with losing records. Let's give them five wins. That would put them at 9-6, with the final game at home against the 49ers. If Martz puts in Warner, and Kurt has the same problems he did before he broke the finger, then ka-poof! No playoffs. My prediction for this week: With Bulger starting, the Rams beat the Bears.
?The Chargers, who all but handed the game to St. Louis late—San Diego went with a three-man rush and laid back in a loose zone, donating prime tracts of real estate—now get to extend their generosity to the 49ers, who like to work underneath. The game's at San Diego, but I like the Niners.
?How much did that overtime tie take out of Atlanta and Pittsburgh? A lot. The Falcons succumb to fatigue—and the Saints. The Steelers will squeak one out over Tennessee. Steve Spurrier had success running the ball against Jacksonville, but then he got bored. The Redskins' pass-run ratio ended in a 51-16 overload and Washington got whacked. Will he have the offense worked out this week? Not completely. The Skins fall to the Giants.
?The game in Detroit is a trap for the Jets, who have Buffalo, Oakland and Denver to follow. New York's coming off a hard-fought victory over Miami, and this could be a perfect time for a letdown. But I look at a young Chad Pennington against that Lions secondary, and I can't, in good conscience, go against the Jets. Quick picks: The Dolphins bounce back against the Ravens, the Bills hang on to upset the Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Browns win in Cincinnati (which hasn't always been easy for them), the Colts beat the Cowboys, the Broncos knock off Seattle, and the Raiders win a high-scorer over the Patriots.
?And here's my big upset, strictly on a hunch: the Vikings over the Packers, who always seems to have trouble in the Metrodome.