- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2006

The St. Louis Rams’ fall from their place among the NFL’s elite hasn’t sat well with the players who remember the glory days of not so long ago.

After the Rams lost by two touchdowns to the lowly Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 3, their sixth loss in seven games, quarterback Marc Bulger couldn’t contain his frustration.

“Obviously, we have guys in here who think it’s OK just to show up and play, and not prepare all week and just think it’s going to get done,” the usually soft-spoken and measured Bulger said. “It doesn’t work that way. There’s more than one guy in this locker room that could care less if we’re losing or thinks it’s OK to make mistakes.”

Bulger pointedly noted that receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and running back Steven Jackson were not among the culprits.

“You hate to see guys like that who are laying it on the line and then see guys that not only could care less, but they’re getting their paychecks on Monday and it’s OK,” Bulger said. “When you get embarrassed by a 2-9 team and you think it’s OK, it’s not OK. Fourteen [points]? We should’ve lost by 100.”

Whether Bulger’s strong words have had any effect on the field is debatable. St. Louis lost 42-27 the next week at NFC leader Chicago before beating lowly Oakland 20-0 to improve to 6-8. They maintain a sliver of a playoff shot heading into tomorrow’s visit by Washington (5-9). However, some veteran Rams truly appreciated their quarterback speaking up loudly.

“I was a little shocked because Marc is such a low-key, quiet guy, but once I heard it, I knew it was heartfelt,” said Holt, one of just six players on the active roster who played in Super Bowl XXXVI for St. Louis five seasons ago. “As an offensive unit, yeah, Marc was right. By him saying that, it really got our attention. We went out and tried to improve on some of the things we need to improve on as a team.”

Offensive tackle Todd Steussie, a 13-year veteran but a first-year Rams player, said Bulger was right.

“It’s been evident to me all year,” Steussie said. “There are guys that I think their level of dedication is during business hours and business hours only. I don’t think we have guys out there quitting, but I feel like the preparation level coming into games isn’t always where it needs to be for all the guys on our offense. Some guys need a reality check on the dedication level that this game takes. Eventually this league weeds out guys like that.”

Like Holt, Steussie has started in a Super Bowl (with Carolina in the 2003 season). Rams first-year coach Scott Linehan hasn’t gotten past the second round of the playoffs in his brief NFL career, but he wasn’t upset that Bulger voiced his frustrations with the slide from the 4-1 start.

“I’m glad that our quarterback is a willing leader and wants to be heard,” said Linehan, who entered the league as an offensive coordinator for Minnesota in 2002 and then held the same position with Miami last season. “It was never going to be a negative for us.”

The Rams went 55-24 from 1999 to 2003 and won a Super Bowl title and two NFC championships. They slipped to 8-8 in 2004 but still made the playoffs as a wild card. Last year, offensive mastermind coach Mike Martz was hospitalized in October and never returned. Bulger missed half the season with a shoulder injury. St. Louis lost six of its last eight and finished 6-10.

Linehan arrived from Miami with a more run-based offense than Martz’s aerial show, but the defense remains problematic. The Rams are 31st against the run and 31st on third down. Only six teams have allowed more points.

“When we were rolling, we definitely had a swagger about us,” Holt said of the old Rams, who were called “The Greatest Show on Turf” under Martz. “Coming into this year, we all felt like we had a good vibe. [Losing] is never easy to accept, but it has been a hilarious year in the NFC.”

And if the Rams beat the Redskins and the plunging Minnesota Vikings (6-9) next week and sneak into the playoffs, Bulger will have had the last laugh.

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