Problem returns

Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2003

ST. LOUIS It's Warner vs. Bulger again with the St. Louis Rams.

Kurt Warner insists all the cobwebs have cleared from his opening-day concussion, and he hasn't missed a day of practice. But it will be Marc Bulger and not the two-time MVP starting at quarterback Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Rams (0-1) insist there's no quarterback controversy. Yet.

Coach Mike Martz said he's simply playing it safe with Warner, who has had three concussions since 1995, and teammates are rolling with the body blows.

''I wouldn't call it a carousel just yet,'' defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. ''A guy gets hurt, gets dinged a little bit, you've got to put the second guy in.''

In his first five career starts after Warner was sidelined with a broken hand, Bulger threw for an NFL-record 1,496 yards. He was 6-1 as the starter before being knocked out himself with a back injury in Week 15. Warner was plagued by indecision as well as injuries and was 0-6.

At the end of last season, Martz said it would be an open competition for the job this year. Then he reversed himself and restored Warner to No. 1 well before training camp.

Bulger also struggled when he started the final preseason game against the Chiefs, throwing two interceptions while going through his progressions too quickly for the Rams' comfort.

''There's just a fine line between aggressive and being a little bit greedy and I probably crossed it a couple of times,'' Bulger said. ''This week, it's important for me not to put us in any bad situations, so I'm going to be a little more conservative probably.''

So, neither quarterback is getting too carried away.

''I don't like not playing,'' Warner said. ''I want to be out there, I want to be competing, especially this early in the season.

''But I've got to do what they tell me to do, and whatever my role is I've got to help this team win.''

This week, healthy or not, his role will be relaying plays from the press box. As for next week's game at Seattle, the Rams will address that topic on Monday.

''We play the 49ers this week,'' Martz said. ''When we play Seattle, we will announce who the quarterback is going to be. For me to project and speculate isn't right, because I don't know what the circumstances will be.''

Bulger, an obscure backup before emerging last year, certainly didn't act like it was his job to lose. He said it would be optimistic to expect another run of victories.

''If you're assuming I'm going to put together a streak, that would be great, and that would be a great problem,'' Bulger said. ''We can talk about that after we win some games.

''To say I'm a seasoned veteran and I should be the starter, that's going too far.''

The first one will be difficult. The 49ers (1-0) are the defending NFC West champions and can open an early cushion against their biggest competition after coming off an impressive 49-7 victory over the Bears in Dennis Erickson's debut.

The 49ers forced five turnovers, turning them into 26 points, and held the Bears to 127 yards in setting a franchise best for margin of victory in an opener.

Jeff Garcia also had a strong game to further quiet doubts about his durability. He had problems with a bulging disc during training camp, but said the injury was ''overhyped'' all summer.

''Until I miss a game because of my back, it's not an issue,'' Garcia said. ''I played as if there wasn't a problem because there wasn't a problem.

''It's old news to me and it gets a bit old just hearing about it.''

The Rams have won seven of the last eight since breaking the 49ers' 17-game stranglehold in the series.

''We're in the same division, No. 1, and you're talking about the teams who have won the last few years, so that makes it more of a rivalry,'' Erickson said. ''You spend a lot of time in the offseason trying to find a way to beat the Rams.''

Martz repeatedly blamed himself for the Rams' opening loss, saying it was the worst game he'd ever coached. Among other things, he twice skipped field goal attempts on fourth-and-long in the fourth quarter that would have cut the gap to a touchdown.

He also failed to get Marshall Faulk involved enough. Faulk had 28 yards on nine carries and caught seven passes for 27 yards.

The Rams might need more from Faulk given the Giants sacked Warner six times and hit him a dozen times. The 49ers limited the Bears to 95 yards passing.

''We just couldn't get in sync in the running game and I got off it probably sooner than I should have,'' Martz said. ''I probably should have given (Faulk) the ball more than I did.''

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