ST. LOUIS – All eyes were on Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III Sunday after he burst onto the scene with a record-setting performance to upset the New Orleans Saints in Week One.
But Rams quarterback Sam Bradford reminded folks why he’s got a Heisman Trophy as well. In arguably the best game of his young career, a motivated Bradford completed 26 of 35 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns to lead St. Louis to a 31-28 victory over Griffin and the Redskins.
“Sam’s motivated every game, all game,” wide receiver Danny Amendola said. ” I mean he’s a hell of a player. He’s the best Heisman trophy winner I know.”
After Griffin led the Redskins to a dramatic Week One victory and the Rams lost in Detroit, some uninformed football followers wondered aloud if St. Louis should have drafted Griffin themselves and traded Bradford. The Rams, after all, traded the No. 2 overall pick to Washington so they could take Griffin — who by all accounts was a franchise quarterback.
The idea was first floated months before the draft but never seemed to gain much traction. Bradford was coming off an unimpressive year during which he was limited to just 10 games because of an ankle injury but seemed to regress from his solid 2010 rookie campaign.
Bradford was the last top pick to earn top dollar, signing an unprecedented six-year, $78 million contract — a record for an NFL rookie that will never be broken. And trading him just a year removed from setting the NFL rookie record for completions didn’t make sense to most, despite a rough 2011 that saw the Rams win just two games.
But armed with a new offensive coordinator and a system that fits his skills much better, Bradford went out and began to prove that, yes, he’s an elite NFL quarterback. And one the Rams should be very happy to have.
Bradford recorded the fourth 300-yard passing game of his career, made possible by Amendola’s NFL record-tying 12 catches in the first half. He finished with 15 receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown for the game.
The former Oklahoma Sooner looked every bit like the quarterback that Rams fans have been waiting to see and the one coach Jeff Fisher thought he was getting when he joined the Rams prior to this season.
“Yes it is,” Fisher said. “Yup, sure is. He was dialed in all week and certainly dialed it in today. This was a difficult defense. Coach Haslett does a lot of different things. I thought they had a great plan, and Sam had some answers. He knew where to go to the football for the most part.
“Sam’s played two pretty good ballgames against two difficult defenses. Sam can put things behind him, he was really frustrated with the interception but came right back and takes care of that with another touchdown pass. He has a good sense of what were doing, and I think this team is only going to get better.”
All-pro running back Steven Jackson injured his groin in the second quarter and didn’t return, making Bradford’s performance that much more impressive. The gunslinger completed passes to six different receivers, looking confident and poised as he sprayed the ball all over the field.
The Rams fell behind 21-6 in the second quarter before Bradford led them on their comeback. After hitting Amendola for a 1-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, he connected with Brandon Gibson in stride for a 34-yard touchdown in the third quarter that put the Rams 23-21.
Showing the leadership that many wanted to see so badly last season, Bradford followed up another Washington score by leading the Rams on another touchdown drive to take the lead for good. Taking advantage of a short field, Bradford found tight end Matthew Mulligan — who blocked a punt minutes earlier — in the back of the end zone for his first career touchdown catch.
The score put the Rams up at 31-28 and sent a sold out crowd into a frenzy. Bradford’s swagger was back. And so too might be the Rams.
“I go about it the same each week, I need to play at a high level and play at my best to give this team a chance to win,” Bradford said. “I think I did that today, and it’s nice to come out with a win.”
Asked when was the last time he felt this good about his performance, Bradford said, “It’s been a while. I don’t know. I think after looking at last week and then this week, being able to fight back and being down early, I think it says a lot about this group. We’re never going to quit. We’re going to keep going.”
Bradford has four touchdown passes in two games after throwing just six all last season. His outing Sunday could only be compared to a game his rookie year in Denver when he passed for 308 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-33 win.
Passing the football down the field with ease, Bradford seemed to get better and more confident with each throw. His teammates responded.
“He started to catch fire, and he threw strikes out there,” Gibson said. “We made plays for him too, and that’s what we have to do. It’s a team thing.”
The team looks a lot better this year. And Bradford’s improved play appears to be a big reason why.