ST. LOUIS -- Marc Bulger is going back to the bench unbeaten.
The man who began the season as St. Louis' third-string quarterback carried the Rams to their fifth straight victory Monday night, 21-16 over Chicago, then prepared to give way to Kurt Warner.
Bulger threw for 347 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Rams (5-5) back to .500 after an 0-5 start. He got a lot of help from a defense led by Adam Archuleta that registered seven sacks.
Nonetheless, Warner is expected to start next week in Washington for the first time since breaking his pinkie Sept. 29. He made a cameo appearance Monday.
''I don't want to give it back to him,'' said Bulger, who began the season as the third-stringer and threw for 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns in his five wins.
''But Kurt Warner is an NFL MVP and I've known all along. I'm excited for Kurt to finally get back out there.''
It wasn't easy for Bulger and the Rams on Monday night as they pulled within two games of San Francisco in the NFC West with six games left, including a season finale against the 49ers.
The battered Bears (2-8) trailed by a point going into the fourth quarter and cut it to 21-16 on Paul Edinger's 50-yard field goal with 3:42 left. But Bulger completed a clutch 10-yard pass on third-and-9 to Torry Holt with 2:30 remaining that forced the Bears to use their last timeouts.
''We just feel like we're finally out of a hole and we can make progress to our goal of getting to the playoffs,'' coach Mike Martz said. ''I'm very proud of the way our team worked to get here. I'm not happy yet with where we are.''
Isaac Bruce had six receptions for 141 yards and the Rams constantly pressured the quarterback. Chris Chandler was playing with a sore neck in place of Jim Miller, who had a sore elbow.
Warner made his first appearance in seven weeks in the second quarter, when Bulger was taken to the locker room for X-rays on an injured index finger on his throwing hand.
Warner was sacked by Keith Traylor and was 1-for-2 for 13 yards. Bulger, now 5-0 as a starter, returned after X-rays were negative.
''I really didn't expect him back,'' Martz said. ''But he just came up to me and said he was ready to go in. I really didn't want to play Kurt at all tonight.''
With Marshall Faulk out with ankle and foot injuries, the Rams had almost no running game. Lamar Gordon, Faulk's replacement, caught a 22-yard touchdown pass late in the first half, but St. Louis was limited to just 62 yards on the ground by Brian Urlacher and the Chicago defense.
Still, they managed to inflict the eighth straight loss on the injury ravaged Bears, who were 13-3 a year ago.
''We weren't able to move the ball, which is a credit to the way they played defensively,'' Chicago coach Dick Jauron said. ''Our defense had some missed tackles that allowed them to execute some really long plays.''
The Rams scored on the first and last drives of the first half to take a 14-6 halftime lead.
The first drive was 65 yards on 10 plays and was capped on a 1-yard run on an inside reverse to tight end Ernie Conwell. It featured consecutive completions of 21 and 22 yards to Bruce from Bulger, who completed 21 of 35 passes.
The second covered 81 yards in four plays and just 46 seconds and the score came on the pass to Gordon.
In between the Bears got field goals of 37 and 48 yards from Edinger. They also stopped what looked like a scoring drive on the Rams' second possession when Rosevelt Colvin sacked Bulger, forcing a fumble that Alex Brown recovered at his own 15.
But the Bears came out with a 64 yard, 11-play drive to start the second half to cut it to 14-13 on Anthony Thomas' 13-yard touchdown run.
The Rams opened it back up by going 82 yards in 10 plays capped by Bulger's TD pass to Proehl with 9:01 left in the game.
The Bears had a final chance when they got the ball at their own 25 with 1:07 left and no timeouts. But Chandler was sacked by Damione Lewis and Chandler's desperation fourth-down pass was tipped away by Tommy Polley.
''We just have to make plays,'' Chicago wide receiver Marcus Robinson said. ''Bottom line, we didn't do that tonight and that's why we lost.''
Notes: Bulger finished his starting tour with a league-leading passer rating of 106.0, and his 1,496 yards are an NFL record for a quarterback's first five starts. ... Chicago left tackle Marc Colombo, the team's first-round draft pick, dislocated his left kneecap with 17 seconds left in the first half. ... Bruce now has 592 receptions as a Ram, one behind the team record held by Henry Ellard, the team's wide receivers coach. ... The Rams are only the second team in NFL history to win five straight games after losing five straight to start the year. Washington did it last season.
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