Who says the NFL has no quarterbacks?

Posted: Monday, November 11, 2002

Kurt Warner says he can be back from his broken pinkie in time for St. Louis' game with the Bears next week.

Do the Rams need him?

Perhaps not after Marc Bulger threw for 453 yards and four TDs Sunday as the Rams prolonged their four-game winning streak after an 0-5 start. Two of Bulger's TD passes came in the final 3 minutes and 6 seconds to pull out the 28-24 win over San Diego.

Sunday was one of those days that demonstrates how far the NFL has advanced since a few years ago when the main lament was: ''Where are the quarterbacks?''

Not only did Bulger, cut by New Orleans two years ago, star for the fourth straight week, but so did a lot of quarterbacks who have survived hard times. Even Peyton Manning -- who came back from a season-and-a-half of questions by throwing for 319 yards in leading Indianapolis to a 35-13 upset in Philadelphia.

Add Tommy Maddox, Jeff Garcia, Kerry Collins, Aaron Brooks and Rodney Peete to the QBs who had a big Sunday after coming from nowhere or disappearing. Maddox had 473 yards in Pittsburgh's 34-all tie with Atlanta, marking the first time in NFL history that two quarterbacks had thrown for more than 450 yards in one day.

Even Todd Bouman, who's been on the end of the Minnesota bench for five seasons and once battled Jay Fiedler for the Vikings' third-string job, replaced the ineffective Daunte Culpepper against the Giants and directed them to two touchdowns in an ultimately futile comeback attempt.

Culpepper, who's having by far his worst season, brushed off any controversy.

''I'm still the quarterback,'' he said. ''It's like in baseball when a relief pitcher comes in. That's how I look at it.''

It may not be as easy for Mike Martz in St. Louis, who discovered the ultimate quarterback from nowhere in Warner. A graduate of the Arena League and NFL Europe, Warner replaced the injured Trent Green in 1999 and led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory. He's won two MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP and is clearly one of the NFL's top three QBs when healthy.

But is he healthy?

Even before breaking his pinkie against Dallas on Sept. 29, he had been out of form -- one TD, eight interceptions and a quarterback rating in the 60s, more than 30 points below his norm. Worse, the Rams started 0-4 with him, then lost another game with Jamie Martin at quarterback before turning to Bulger, who most teams didn't think was enough of a leader or had an accurate enough arm.

Now the Rams have won four straight and are on the brink of getting back in the playoff race. They remain the most feared team in the NFC and seem capable of finishing 10-6 or even 11-5. That would most likely put them in playoffs. Once there, anything can happen.

But first, Martz must face what's become a bit of a quarterback controversy.

After Bulger's performance Sunday, which came with Marshall Faulk on the sideline for much of the game, he could postpone the decision by sticking with Bulger against the Bears at home next week instead of a rusty Warner. That could forestall a problem, particularly in the spotlight of Monday night.

Eventually, Warner will have to be the quarterback -- he's earned the job with his performance in his first three seasons as a starter. And even if he spends the rest of the season on the bench, Bulger will surface again -- he's liable to be worth quite a bit to a quarterback-hungry team if St. Louis chooses to dangle him in the offseason.

''Going back to the bench isn't fun,'' Bulger said after Sunday's game. ''If this is it, this is it.''

Bide your time, young man.

A lot of NFL teams would love to have you.

Dave Goldberg is a sports reporter for The Associated Press.

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