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NFC PLAYOFFS Atlanta leery of Rams, Bulger



Published: Fri, January 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Falcons beat visiting St. Louis 34-17 in Week 2.

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- If memory serves, the Atlanta Falcons will have no reason to shudder when Marc Bulger leads the Rams offense onto the field Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

The Rams' quarterback hardly put the fear of God in the former "Dirty Birds" when the teams met back on Sept. 19. Bulger completed 24-of-31 passes for 285 yards, but he also was sacked five times, threw an interception and lost a fumble in the end zone that the Falcons recovered for a tide-turning touchdown. Another Atlanta interception return for a touchdown was nullified by a penalty.

In the end, Atlanta walked off with a genuine 34-17 victory, while Bulger walked off worse for wear. In more recent days he has indicated he experienced the first trappings of a shoulder injury in the Atlanta game. And he assessed his own performance in less-than-flattering terms, concluding: "You have to learn by making mistakes."

Falcon praise

Yet, Bulger's name comes up often in conversations around the Falcons' training facility. The tone is almost reverent, the praise consistently authentic.

"I think he just runs that offense very well," safety Bryan Scott said. "I can't think of another guy, besides Peyton Manning possibly, who could run that offense as well as he does. He definitely comes off his first receiver to his second and even sometimes to his third. And if that's not there sometimes, then he'll dip it down to Marshall Faulk or Steven Jackson.

"I think what makes that offense so amazing is that he doesn't call audibles. They pretty much go off what they see, so the receiver and the quarterback have to see the same thing. That's really cool to me. He's a smart guy and he just knows how to run it."

Rams' playoff push

Bulger was a combined 49-of-66 for 675 yards and four touchdowns as the Rams beat the Eagles and Jets in season-ending home games to capture a wild card spot. The 27-year-old Bulger then completed 18-of-32 for 313 yards and two scores to guide the Rams to a 27-20 playoff victory at Seattle last weekend. Over those last three games, he has a quarterback rating of 108.7, considerably higher than the 90.5 rating he had before those games.

Atlanta coach Jim Mora has watched Bulger in person more often than some of his Falcons followers. Mora was the defensive coordinator in San Francisco before taking over in Atlanta. He has seen Bulger blossom in seamless progression.

"He's become a very efficient passer, but I always thought he was an efficient passer," Mora said. "I've always been impressed with his delivery, the quickness with which he gets the ball out, especially under pressure, the way he hangs in the pocket in the face of pressure and the way he has accuracy under pressure.

"What I see now is real confidence and a real mesh between his receivers and himself in terms of timing. His team has confidence in him and that's a big difference, but he's a very talented guy."




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