ST. LOUIS — Make or break. Do or die. Back against the wall. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has heard the narrative so often, he’s probably wanted to scream.
But he couldn’t say much. All he could do was work like the devil to return from a torn ACL and then begin showing on the field why the Rams selected him with the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
So it was that exactly 300 days after that ACL was torn at Carolina, Bradford returned to the Edward Jones Dome on Saturday and began showing that he intends to pick up where he left off and prove the doubters wrong.
Yes, it was only a practice game, but Bradford moved well, passed with accuracy and hit a fourth-and-3 pass to tight end Jared Cook on a play where he hung in the pocket with defenders around him and delivered the ball where it needed to go.
His first drive was stalled by two penalties and slightly overthrowing wide receiver Kenny Britt on a deep pass to the right. But the next time the Rams got the ball, on a day where the running game wasn’t working, Bradford completed 4 of 5 passes for 63 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown to tight end Lance Kendricks. It was the Rams’ only touchdown, and it was Bradford’s clear message that he’s back.
In fact, various social media outlets said that’s what he said after the touchdown ("I’m back"). Asked about that after the game, Bradford said: "No, I don’t think those were the words."
However, he did acknowledge that "in the quarterback room we’ve kind of got something we say and I looked over at Schotty (offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) and gave him one of those. So, it was just kind of a signal to him."
"Anybody that had questions about Sam’s physical condition, I think they were answered today," said coach Jeff Fisher. "I’m very pleased with his performance, and you can see he has his fastball. Those were great throws to Brian (Quick) and Lance. I’m happy with his game. He’s excited and things are clearly behind him. Now we can move forward, so that was encouraging."
The play to Quick came on a play-action pass that was a little high. Quick went up and snared it for a 41-yard gain on the first play of the possession. On the first possession, the Rams ran the ball on three first-and-10 plays "totaling" minus-3 yards.
"That was an extremely tough catch and (it was great) to see him climb the ladder and go get that ball and then come down and get some yards after that catch," Bradford said. "I told you guys the other day, we’ve seen a lot of that from him during OTAs and during training camp. I expect to see a lot more out of him this year doing that."
Three plays later, on third-and-7 from the Green Bay 32, Bradford went to Quick again. The result was a pass interference call on cornerback Sam Shields, and the Rams had a first down at the 17-yard line.
"I think they saw him make that play," Bradford said. "I don’t know what was going on over there, but obviously that corner knew he was one-on-one with Quickie. Quickie made a nice release, ended up getting a pass interference penalty and kept our drive alive."
On the touchdown pass, Bradford placed the ball perfectly and Kendricks made the catch with safety Micah Hyde draped all over him.
"We’ve called that play quite a bit in training camp and I’m not sure the ball has ever gone there. But it was just a look where their safety was playing outside and Lance did a great job of getting around the ‘backer and inside the safety and he made a great catch, because that’s not an easy catch."
Specifics aside, Bradford was simply glad to be playing again. "It was just great to be back on the field with the guys," he said. "We try to simulate game speed in practice the best we can, but it’s really hard to simulate that. So to get out there and get some live snaps today, it was just great to feel the speed of the game again."
And yes, it was even good to get hit, which he was on the only incompletion of the scoring drive when linebacker Julius Peppers beat left tackle Greg Robinson and slammed into Bradford as he was throwing.
Watch a replay of the Packers-Rams preseason game at 7 p.m. Sunday on FOX Sports Midwest.
"Yeah," Bradford said. "I knew I was going to get a hit or two today — that’s just part of the game. But it’s always nice to get that first one under your belt, knowing that everything’s going to be OK."
— Flag Day. Yellow flags were flying throughout the game, with the final tally 10 penalties for 76 yards against the Rams and 12 for 95 against the Packers. And those were just the ones assessed. Several others were declined.
That has been the story of the preseason in the NFL. Fisher said part of the pregame discussion was that Friday’s games around the league averaged 10 penalties per team. The Saints had 22 penalties for 184 yards against Tennessee on Friday night.
"Most of them appeared to be points of emphasis — hands to the face and defensive holding," Fisher said of the calls in Saturday’s game. "We will keep coaching them and trying to get them to understand those are things that are going to get called. I don’t anticipate anything changing once the regular season starts."
The coach was right. There were three hands-to-the face penalties on each team. The Rams had one defensive holding call, while the Packers were whistled for four, with three being assessed because two came on the same play.
— Sam’s first sack. With 7:25 left in the game, defensive end Michael Sam registered his first sack. He appeared to be held by tackle Derek Sherrod, but fought through it and dropped quarterback Matt Flynn for a 10-yard loss.
"That’s a play I’m supposed to make and I ended up making it," Sam said. "I finally got that under my belt. It feels good."
Sam is in a tough competition with rookie free agent Ethan Westbrooks, who was first off the bench against the Packers at left defensive end on Green Bay’s second possession. He was disruptive, and was credited with four tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits. The Rams also believe Westbrooks can play inside.
"I was a whole lot more comfortable with the first game under my belt," said Sam, who got his first snaps in the third quarter. "I was more relaxed. I know the speed of the game now and how it is."
He had plays at both right and left end, and he knows big plays are important.
"I felt like I did OK," Sam said. "There was some good stuff and clearly some stuff I need to work on. I just have to get better every week so I can compete to make this team. When you make plays you can make the team."
— Pead likely done. Running back Isaiah Pead is likely lost for the season after an initial diagnosis that he suffered a torn ACL on a kickoff return in the first quarter after the Packers’ first touchdown.
Pead had open running room, but stepped badly while cutting and went down after a 33-yard return. He was playing despite having recent surgery for a broken finger on his right hand.
"After talking to our doctors, it’s unlikely that he has not torn his ACL," Fisher said. "It’s just kind of one of those non-contact, freak things that happens out there sometimes."
Howard Balzer can be heard daily on H & Friends from 9-11 a.m. on FoxSportsRadio 1490.