For most of Sunday’s 2012 NFL season opener against the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was in game-management mode.
Through three quarters, the Rams’ third-year signal-caller had only completed 11 passes on 17 attempts for 101 yards, with no touchdowns, but also no interceptions either.
Some felt as though Bradford wasn’t playing very well, although it seemed clear the Rams just wanted their quarterback to play conservatively and not make any big mistakes.
“One of the issues we had,” head coach Jeff Fisher said, “obviously, we were facing a very good defense, a good pass rush, and we weren’t as good as we liked to have been on third down. We had seven or eight third-downs over third-and-seven plus and those are difficult to convert.”
Bradford’s only big throw through the first three quarters was a deep shot to Chris Givens that could’ve gone for a touchdown had the rookie receiver made the catch.
But the pass by Bradford appeared to be underthrown, and was knocked down by a Detroit defender.
“(Bradford) saw (Givens) late,” Fisher said. “Just tried to give him a chance. You’d like to see maybe Chris get his foot in the ground and come back and high point that ball, but he was running at quite a rate of speed.”
In the fourth quarter though, Bradford finally got to open it up a bit and throw the ball downfield some, connecting on six-of-eight attempts for 97 yards and a touchdown.
And twice in the fourth quarter, Bradford led the Rams on long drives that ended in points that gave St. Louis the lead, including a 46-yard field goal by rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein that seemed like it might be enough to get the Rams a win.
“Guys are gutting it out,” running back Steven Jackson said. “Guys are winning some individual battles and we’re able to move the ball down the field. Of course, we would have loved to punch it in the end zone, but we definitely have a lot of film we can go over and build off of the rest of the season.”
Unfortunately, the Rams weren’t able to get a victory a Sunday, as Detroit drove the length of the field on its final possession and scored a go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds left for a gut-wrenching 27-23 win over St. Louis.
But that doesn’t change how good Bradford was during that final quarter.
The Rams had just three possessions in the fourth, and with the game on the line, Bradford led St. Louis on two scoring drives.
The first was a five-play, 47-yard thing of beauty, capped by perhaps Bradford’s best throw of the day, a 23-yard touchdown pass to wideout Brandon Gibson.
The fourth-year Rams receiver was blanketed in coverage by a Detroit defender, but Bradford’s pass was perfectly dropped over Gibson’s inside shoulder, allowing the receiver to grab it and stay in bounds for a touchdown.
Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, who threw for 355 yards on Sunday, but also had three nearly game-killing interceptions, took the Lions down the field — 80 yards on five plays to tie the game at 20.
But Bradford wasn’t done either.
He took St. Louis on a 13-play, 52-yard drive, including four throws that went for first downs, and set up Zuerlein’s late go-ahead field goal.
Stafford did have the final laugh, throwing the game-winning touchdown to teammate Kevin Smith, but Rams fans can still be encouraged by Bradford’s brilliance in the fourth quarter, especially after watching him experience a sophomore jinx-like season in 2011.
“It was good,” Fisher said. “We just didn’t get enough opportunities. They won the time of possession the first half. We won time of possession the second half. With our time of possession, we’re managing the clock and running the football and not taking the shots down the field. We didn’t throw it 48 times like they did, and they do it very well.”
In Week 2, Bradford and the Rams will face off against the quarterback who delivered perhaps the best quarterbacking performance of any in Week 1, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, who went 19-26 for 320 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions, in the Redskins’ surprising 40-32 win over the New Orleans Saints.