Sam Bradford has not had many chances to enjoy football since winning the 2008 Heisman Trophy while playing quarterback for the University of Oklahoma. But he had a blast in his first professional start for the St Louis Rams. The top selection in this year's NFL draft played with the poise of a veteran, completing 15 of 22 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. His first-half performance on Thursday night launched the Rams to a 36-35 exhibition victory over the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
"Tonight was really the first time that I had fun," said Bradford, who missed 10 games at Oklahoma last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. "I felt like I was doing what I am used to doing, which is moving the offence up and down the field and scoring points. "Anytime you can do that, it's a blast." His performance may have earned him the No 1 job when the Rams open the season on September 12 against the Arizona Cardinals. But Steve Spagnuolo, his coach, did not seem ready to make that decision just yet.
"We've got to look at the film," Spagnuolo said after the game on Thursday. "I want to see how he handled things when there was pressure." Bradford seemed to do just fine. He rarely got flustered, he was sacked just once and he quickly located open receivers. He completed his first six passes and did not throw an interception. He led the Rams to a half-time advantage over the Patriots, then watched the second half from the sidelines.
The Rams won on a 37-yard field goal by Josh Brown on the last play of the game. Bradford missed all but three games of his final collegiate season with the shoulder injury. He was making his first start since last October. When training camp began, Spagnuolo named AJ Feeley as the starting quarterback, but he was sidelined with a sprained right thumb. Thursday night, Bradford got his chance to start after struggling for two games as a back-up.
"He was putting the ball on the money," the Rams running back Steven Jackson said. "You can tell he really knows the offence. I'm really impressed with how far he's come in a short time." The Patriots took the lead just 12 seconds into the game on a 97-yard kick-off return by Brandon Tate. Then Bradford took the field. "Before I went out there, I took a deep breath and said, 'Do what you know how to do'," he said.
That is what he did, leading the Rams on scoring drives on three of his first four series. He was perfect on four passes in the first drive, including a five-yard touchdown pass to Michael Hoomanawanui. On his third drive, Bradford completed three of four passes to set up a 25-yard field goal by Brown for a 10-7 lead. And on his fourth series, he hooked up with Hoomanawanui again for a 12-yard score and a 17-7 lead. Brown added a 45-yard field goal to put St. Louis ahead 20-14 at half time.
"[Bradford] made some good throws," said Leigh Bodden, the Patriots cornerback. "But we didn't make a lot of plays to make him look bad." Other than quarterback Tom Brady, who completed 18 of 22 passes for 273 yards, and the rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught two of Brady's three touchdown passes, there was very little impressive about the Patriots. New England gained more than 10 yards on just four of 11 series. And only one of the Patriots' possessions lasted more than five plays.
"We didn't do well on anything," said Bill Belichick, the New England coach. The Patriots offence did not produce a first down until 3:10 remained in the first half and finished with 12. Their defence gave up 30 first downs. "They were able to move the ball at will," said the New England safety James Sanders. "It was demoralising." Bradford played until half time, then another rookie quarterback, the free agent Thaddeus Lewis from Duke, led a 76-yard march to start the third quarter. The time-consuming drive ended with a 20-yard scoring pass to Brandon Gibson
New England rallied to take a 35-27 lead on two touchdown passes by Brady and one by Brian Hoyer. The Rams got within two on Keith Toston's two-yard run, then Keith Null directed a 41-yard drive to set up Brown's decisive field goal. Stan Kroenke, the new Rams owner, was at the stadium, one day after the NFL approved him as a majority owner. He met with the team before the game. "That was terrific," Spagnuolo said. "He stayed for the entire game, late into the night."
* Associated Press