DETROIT — Grant Wistrom stewed on a chair in front of his locker, with an ice pack on his elbow and a disgusted look on his face.
With the top seed in the NFC to play for, the St. Louis Rams could not beat a team with only pride on the line.
Joey Harrington threw three touchdown passes and Marc Bulger was knocked out of the game in Detroit’s shocking 30-20 victory against the Rams on Sunday.
The Lions scored 20 straight points in the first 15:31 of the second half to take a 30-20 lead, which they were easily able to maintain against the suddenly shaky Rams, who had won seven straight.
“We came out flat,” Wistrom said. “It was evident when we warmed up and on the first snap. Football is an emotional game, and they obviously wanted it more than we did.”
St. Louis (12-4) squandered a chance to be at home throughout the NFC playoffs, something it had en route to the 2001 and 1999 NFC championships.
The Philadelphia Eagles now have that edge and can thank the lowly Lions (5-11) for winning a game they were expected to lose by double digits.
“This team was not prepared and ultimately, that comes back on me,” St. Louis coach Mike Martz said. “I just felt like we weren’t as excited about playing as we normally are, and that’s my responsibility.”
Kurt Warner replaced Bulger early in the fourth quarter because Martz said he was concerned about the hits Bulger was taking.
The Rams said Bulger left the game with a bruised forearm after he was sacked on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Otis Smith.
“I don’t need a reason, nor do I complain,” said Bulger, who was 18-of-31 for 170 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two fumbles.
Warner had not played since he suffered a concussion in a loss to the New York Giants in Week 1. The two-time MVP had two possessions to mount a comeback, but he could not move the Rams downfield.
“I was a little bit off,” said Warner, who was 4-of-11 for 23 yards. “The game was moving fast, but it felt good to be out there again.”
Bulger was not the only star stymied by the Lions.
Marshall Faulk was held to 35 yards rushing and a touchdown, and 40 yards receiving. Torry Holt had only five catches for 54 yards.
Bulger’s successful breakout season was stunted in the regular-season finale. He fumbled on the third snap after halftime, threw an interception on St. Louis’ third drive of the second half and fumbled on the play that sidelined him.
Harrington, Detroit’s second-year quarterback, was 26-of-36 for 238 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
“For today, we were the best team in football and that feels good,” Harrington said. “It gives us as a team and as a city, a taste of what that is like.”
Under new coach Steve Mariucci, the Lions matched their win total from the previous two seasons and had a 5-3 record at home.
“Maybe this team deserves a win like this,” Mariucci said.
Detroit’s season, though, will be remembered for the NFL record set last week at Carolina with a 24th straight loss on the road.
Two Lions — Az-Zahir Hakim and Dre’ Bly — played well against their former team.
Hakim had five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, and a career-long 35-yard run that set up Harrington’s go-ahead touchdown pass to Casey FitzSimmons midway through the third quarter.
Bly, the first Detroit cornerback selected to start in the Pro Bowl since 1977, had a team-high eight tackles and forced a fumble.
The Lions, who had 230 yards passing and 112 rushing, had not scored more than 23 points since beating Arizona 42-24 in the opener.
“That’s a team that shouldn’t be able to move the ball on us,” Wistrom said. “And they stuffed it down our throats the entire game.”