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Thursday, 4 August 2011

So Long #10 - A Farewell To Marc Bulger

In a week where Randy Moss joined the queue for 1st ballot Hall of Famers right behind Brett Favre by announcing his retirement, the decision by Marc Bulger to hang up his cleats has passed by with relatively little fanfare. But here at TPL, we understand the plight of the forgotten man; and as a Rams fan, I remember the good times we had with Marc under centre. It’s with this in mind that I present a farewell to #10.

 Everyone remembers Tom Brady’s draft details. The year 2000, round 6, pick 199. Patriots fans might as well have these details tattooed to their face, they’re so desperate for everyone to remember it. What people don’t remember is who was selected 31 picks earlier, at the top of the 6th round. With the 168th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Marc Bulger, QB, West Virginia. It was pretty much from here, right at the beginning, that the careers of Bulger and Brady started to divulge somewhat, and it was an inauspicious start for Marc in the NFL. He spent the year 2000 jumping around between practice squads, starting in N’arlins, skipping through Atlanta, and finally arriving in St Louis late in the 2000 season – signing a deal in January 2001. As the inactive 3rd string QB on the Rams roster he watched the entire 2001 season from the sidelines, as the side led by Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk went 14-2, became NFC Champs and made it to Superbowl XXXVI. Here, he watched on as the Patriots, led by a certain Mr Brady shocked the Rams with a 20-17 victory thanks to a last second Adam Vinatieri field goal. Bulger was yet to attempt his first professional pass in the NFL, whilst Brady became the then youngest ever QB to win the Superbowl, receiving the MVP award in the process.

Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger
(P: Chris Lee/clee@post-dispatch.com)
It wasn’t until the 2002 season that Bulger finally got his chance. Kurt Warner went down injured early in the season, and in the hands of backup Jamie Martin the Rams started 0-5. When Martin too went down, it was up to Bulger to take the reins, and in week 6 he led the Rams against Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice and the visiting Oakland Raiders. On that day Bulger went 14-of-21, for 186 yards, tossing 3 TDs and no interceptions, helping the Rams to a 28-13 win. The Rams won their subsequent 4 games with Bulger at the helm, and by the end of the season he was 6-0 in the games he both started and finished, with a QB rating of 101.5, and a TD:Int ratio of 14:6. He was voted as the Rams MVP for the season, despite only playing in half the games.

Although Warner regained his starting position to start the 2003 season, a broken hand led him to fumble the ball 6 times vs. the Giants, and Mike Martz recalled Bulger to the starting line-up. With all the rest of the pieces of the Greatest Show on Turf still in place, Bulger was able to lead the Rams to records of 12-4 (2003) and 8-8 (2004) and back to post-season football, losing in the divisional round both seasons. It was during these years that Bulger established himself as one of the top 10 QBs in the NFL. He played in 29 of 32 regular season games, passing for 7809 yards and 43 TDs, and earning his first Pro-Bowl call up in 2004 (although only as an alternate due to injuries to Favre and Donovan McNabb). Bulger made the most of his time in Hawaii, recording 4 passing touchdowns and earning the Pro-Bowl MVP award. In 2005, Bulger’s season was hindered by injury, but even in his 8 games he managed 2297 yards and 14 TDs. Had he been fit all season, who knows just how good his numbers could have been? 4500 yards, 30 TDs?

Marc Bulger appears at the Pro-Bowl
(P: http://bit.ly/nNjxXj)

The real pinnacle of Bulger’s career came in 2006 however. He played in all 16 games (the only time he has done this), passed for 4301 yards and 24 TDs with a QB rating of 92.9. These numbers were all amongst the best of his career, but his real achievements were record setting. For an NFL-record 8 straight games, Bulger recorded a passer rating of 100+, and on September 10th 2006 Bulger completed his 1000th pass in the NFL. Although this is an achievement reached by numerous NFL QBs, Bulger is still the record holder for the fastest ever to get to this point, taking only 45 games, beating Warner by 2 games, Peyton Manning and Drew Bledsoe by 3 games, and Dan Marino by 4. The Rams narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2006, finishing 8-8. Bulger’s performance earned him a new six-year contract extension, and the Rams were set for a push to the playoffs in 2007, with Bulger touted as one of the top 5 QBs in the league.

Bulger sacked by the 49ers Walt Harris
(P: Dilip Vishwanat)
If only. The 2007 season can be penned in as one of the most disappointing seasons for the Rams in their time in St Louis. The Rams were besieged by injuries, across all positions, but notably to the offensive line. Orlando Pace, a Rams hero, former #1 overall pick in 1997, was injured in the season opener against the Carolina Panthers and missed the entire rest of the year. Starting G/T Todd Steussie underwent foot surgery and missed the first 12 weeks of the season. Second year LG Marc Setterstrom started the first three games before a season ending knee injury kept him out for the rest of the year (and the entirety of 2008). Spotting a theme here? Just about every position across the O-line was filled by injury replacements. The only real consistency was Alex “Penalty Machine” Barron at RT, and that really is a damming state of affairs (in his 5 years with the Rams, Barron was the 2nd most penalized player in the NFL, behind only Flozell Adams, with 70 total penalties called against him). Criticism has also been levelled at the Rams front office for being reluctant to invest in the O-line at this time (particularly recently from TE Anthony Becht, who has tweeted repeatedly about how great a QB and teammate Marc was, and how “After taking so many hits w/ the Oline that they would never spend $ on to help him carve up defenses like he could. Took the passion right out of him.”) The patchwork Rams line allowed 48 sacks that season, 6th worst in the NFL, and Bulger took a beating. Broken ribs, a broken thumb, and general shell-shock caused Bulger to record his first season with more INTs than TDs, and the Rams slumped to a 3-13 record. After so many expectations were put on Bulger’s shoulders, the failure of the 2007 season was laid solely (and in my, and clearly Becht’s opinion, unfairly) at his door.

Bulger's final play as a Ram, strip-sacked by
Arizona Cardinal Calais Campbell
(P: Bill Greenblatt)
 The change around from ’06 to ’07 was huge, and something that Bulger never seemed to recover from for the rest of his career. He started the 2008 season 0-3 and was replaced by Trent Green, before new HC Jim Hasslett reinstated him for the rest of the season. After back-to-back wins over Washington and Dallas in weeks 6/7, the Rams did not manage to win another game, finishing 2-14. Bulger’s numbers included a career worst completion percentage of 57.0 as again his protections continually broke down, allowing 45 sacks on the season. The constant pressure Bulger felt throughout the 2007 and 2008 seasons left him with the QB version of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the constant pressure he felt (often real, usually expected or sometimes imagined) caused his collapse in accuracy and productivity. Although he retained his start for the 2009 season, it didn’t last long, and Bulger took his final snap as a St Louis Ram on November 22nd in a 21-13 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals, where Bulger fumbled the ball on what could have been the Rams game-tying drive in the 4th quarter. On December 26th 2009 he was placed on injured reserve, and released (at his request) on April 5th 2010, his 33rd birthday. It was his release that signalled a changing of the guard in St Louis, and made it fairly obvious to all that Sam Bradford was to be the Rams’ #1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Bulger signed by the Ravens to
mentor Joe Flacco
(P: Rob Carr)

Although signed to a one-year deal by the Baltimore Ravens later that year, Bulger was never really intended to play. As an experienced veteran he was brought in to mentor the young Joe Flacco, and presumably fill in in case of injury. Bulger didn’t attempt any passes in the 2010 season, and a number of sources, including former teammate Kurt Warner and former Rams executive Tony Softli, came forward to suggest that Bulger was more than happy in his back-up role, that he didn’t want to face the day-to-day pressure of being a #1 QB, and that “Shell-shocked quarterbacks really struggle with happy feet and give up on a play rather than stand in there and throw under pressure.” These impressions were supported somewhat in recent weeks. With the NFL lockout wreaking havoc with NFL front offices, depth-charts and free agent signings, Bulger’s name was brought up consistently as one of the better FA QBs on the market, and a strong candidate to earn a starting job in the NFL due to his experience in the league carrying him through what would be a severely limited off-season. Despite being linked to Arizona on numerous occasions, and a number of teams expressing interest in Marc as at the very least a #2 QB with the potential to compete for a starting job again, Bulger decided to hang ‘em up earlier this week, bringing to an end his 11 year career. His career stats read 22,814 yards, 122 touchdowns, and 93 interceptions.

It’s a sad fact that NFL fans tend to have short memories and selective amnesia when it comes to quarterbacks, and Bulger might be remembered for the disappointment of the 2007 season rather than for his superb performances and record setting numbers from 2003-06. If injuries hadn’t crippled the Rams offence to start ’07, there’s no telling just how things could have gone for him, and whether he would have been able to pin himself in people’s minds as one of the best QBs of the decade. Despite his retirement being overshadowed by “greats” like Moss and Favre, it won’t go unnoticed, and his career won’t go unappreciated, particularly by Rams fans who remember those earlier, great years.

Thanks for all the good times Marc, and sorry about the bad. As Anthony Becht concluded in his tweets, “Congrats my friend on a spectacular career that could have been that much better. Enjoy the golf courses u deserve it.”

-Phil Gaskin (@sosayitisaid)
-The Pulling Linemen

1 comment:

  1. Guy had a tremendously quick release and could have had a great career if he had some pass protection.