The former third-string quarterback returned from a sprained index finger and threw two touchdown passes, and Jeff Wilkins kicked a 26-yard field goal with 20 seconds left that lifted the Rams over the Arizona Cardinals 30-28 Sunday night.
|Dre' Bly coasts into the end zone with his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown. (Getty Images)|
But Bulger also threw two interceptions and struggled in the second half as the Rams (6-8) barely snapped a three-game losing streak that chased the defending NFC champions out of playoff contention.
"He was a little rusty," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "He made some throws that he doesn't usually make, and he needs to be a little bit more disciplined than he was at some times in the second half.
"But he made plays and that's what makes him so special."
Bulger didn't care about his problems. He was concentrating on the bottom line.
"Obviously, I made some big mistakes and put my team in some bad situations," Bulger said. "But anytime you win, all of those feelings go away."
Marcel Shipp scored three touchdowns and Jake Plummer's 1-yard touchdown pass to Steve Bush gave the Cardinals, down by 17 points at halftime, a 28-27 lead with 7:56 to go.
Plummer came close to his 22nd come-from-behind victory in six seasons, including all five victories this year for the Cardinals (5-9).
"I expect this team to fight, I expect this team to win," Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said. "I take no consolation in getting beat. None."
Plummer produced two first downs, one with a sneak and another with a 7-yard draw, before giving the Rams back the ball with 1:51 to go and no timeouts remaining. Bulger made good on the Rams' final chance, moving the team 72 yards in five plays over 1:31, the big play a 58-yard pass to Torry Holt on the first snap.
"They've got 80 yards to go and they get 60 of them on the first play," McGinnis said. "You just can't do that."
Wilkins, criticized last week by Martz for scuffing the ground on field goal attempts, hit his third without a miss despite a high snap to holder Ricky Proehl. The Rams kicked on second down just in case there was a problem, unlike on Nov. 24 when they lost 20-17 at Washington when Warner was stripped of the ball with 13 seconds to go and the Rams in chip-shot field goal position.
"If there's a miscue, you don't lose it," Martz said. "We were trying to be careful with that."
Travis Fisher sealed the victory when he intercepted Plummer's throw with 3 seconds to go.
The Cardinals have lost seven of eight.
Bulger was 24-for-40 for 319 yards. Holt, his best target, caught seven passes for 141 yards.
Plummer was 17-for-27 for 258 yards for the Cardinals with two touchdowns and an interception.
Shipp scored on consecutive drives as the Cardinals narrowed the gap to 24-21 in the third quarter. He eluded a few tacklers at the start of an 80-yard screen pass, then scored on a 1-yard run with 5:08 to go.
Bush was wide open for the go-ahead score, with Plummer rolling out after a play-action fake.
Replacement punt returner Dre' Bly got the Rams started with a 78-yard punt return in the second quarter. It was the first scoring return by the team all season, compared with 12 touchdowns for opponents.
Bly replaced Terrence Wilkins, a game-day inactive who has confounded the team with his inability to grasp the offense.
"It was huge," Bly said. "It was perfectly executed blocking."
Bulger got his two touchdown passes at the end of the half for a 24-7 lead, the most points scored in the first half all season by the Rams. He hit Troy Edwards on a 4-yard score with 1:03 left, then Leonard Little stripped Plummer and recovered the fumble at the Arizona 32 with 39 seconds left. That set up Bulger's 3-yard toss to Holt with :03 remaining before the break.
- Marshall Faulk didn't start for the fifth straight game due to a high ankle sprain, but became the second player in NFL history to rush for 5,000 yards on two teams, joining Eric Dickerson. Both did it for the Rams and Colts. Faulk finished with 39 yards on nine carries.
- Shipp's 80-yard reception was the Cardinals' longest scoring catch in 223 games, since Neil Lomax and Ernie Jones hooked up on a 93-yarder Dec. 10, 1988 against the Eagles.
The Associated Press News Service
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