ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Rams hit quite a few high notes in their first season-opening victory since 2006. The most significant might have been keeping quarterback Sam Bradford on his feet.
The offensive line anchored by free agent pickup Jake Long at left tackle didn’t allow a sack in Sunday’s 27-24 comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Bradford had protection while rallying the Rams from 11 points down in the fourth quarter.
“I can’t say enough about those guys up front,” Bradford said. “They played outstanding, and I think it shows that we’ve taken leaps and bounds from where we were last year.
“They threw some looks at us, especially on third down, that we hadn’t seen in the preseason and those guys didn’t flinch at all.”
Bradford hasn’t been sacked in three straight games, the first time the Rams have done that since 1973 when John Hadl was sacked just 17 times all season behind a line that featured Ken Iman and Tom Mack for a 12-2 team that won the NFC West.
Coach Jeff Fisher said Bradford was hit only six times, none of them hard hits. He had time to get the ball to Jared Cook, who set a franchise record for yards by a tight end in his Rams debut with 141 yards on seven catches with two touchdowns.
The previous record, 126 yards by Pete Holohan, was set in 1988.
Bradford was cool and calm during the deciding drive that set up Greg Zuerlein’s tie-breaking 48-yard field goal with 40 seconds to go.
“Nothing had to be said,” Long said. “We knew it was on the line. We knew we had been shooting ourselves in the foot, we knew we could drive it.
“It’s great to see we can pull it out like this.”
Tackle Rodger Saffold missed time in the second quarter having a knee injury checked, but wasn’t gone long. And an injury timeout was enough for Long to shake off a minor injury without missing a snap.
Saffold, who was at left tackle then, and center Scott Wells started at the end of last year and guard Chris Williams rotated with Shelley Smith when the Rams didn’t allow a sack on the road against Tampa Bay and Seattle.
“Not that there’s much carry-over from last year, but at least we’re off to the right start,” Fisher said.
Among the items on the to-do list for Week 2 at Atlanta, they’ll try to reduce penalties, improve on a 4-for-11 showing on third down conversions and, most of all, capitalize on breaks.
After Marquise Johnson returned an interception to the 4, the Rams went backward and settled for a field goal. A 38-yard interference penalty put the Rams at the Arizona 26 and they gained 8 yards – five on an encroachment penalty – before settling for another field goal.
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, one of the team leaders, apologized after a rocky opener. He was whistled for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and also got beat on a 44-yard catch by Michael Floyd to the 4 that led to the Cardinals’ first touchdown.
“I just can’t do that,” Finnegan said. “I’ve got them all out of my system. We’ve got 15 more, you won’t get another one out of me.”
Running back Isaiah Pead returns for Week 2 after a one-game suspension. Fisher was circumspect about his plans for the 2012 second-rounder beaten out by Daryl Richardson for the backup job last year and the starting job this summer.
“He’s back in the building and he’ll be on the practice field,” Fisher said.