Poised and precise, Sam Bradford made an impressive debut as a starting NFL quarterback. It may have earned him the No. 1 job in the regular-season opener.
The top pick in the NFL draft zipped passes between and over defenders, threw for two touchdowns then watched the second half from the sidelines as the St. Louis Rams beat the New England Patriots 36-35 on Josh Brown’s 37-yard field goal on the last play Thursday night.
But will Bradford be back under center for the Rams first snap Sept. 12 against the Arizona Cardinals?
“We’ve got to look at the film,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I want to see how he handled things when there was pressure.”
He seemed to do just fine.
Bradford completed his first six passes, finished 15-of-22 for 189 yards and was sacked just once. He rarely got flustered and quickly located open receivers.
“It was a blast out there tonight,” he said. “I had fun. I was used to doing what I was doing – moving the offense up and own the field.”
The 2008 Heisman Trophy winner missed most of last season at Oklahoma with a shoulder injury and made his first start since last October. When training camp began, Spagnuolo gave the starting job to A.J. Feeley, but he was sidelined with a sprained right thumb and Bradford got his chance after struggling for two games as a backup.
“He was putting the ball on the money,” Rams running back Steven Jackson said. “You can tell he really knows the offense. I’m really impressed with how far he’s come in a short time.”
Other than Tom Brady, who completed 18 of 22 passes for 273 yards, and rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught two of Brady’s three touchdown passes, there was very little impressive about the Patriots (2-1).
St. Louis (2-1) led in time of possession, 43:46 to 16:14, and in offensive yards, 462-288. The Patriots gained more than 10 yards on just four of 11 series while the Rams went nine for 11. And only one of the Patriots possessions lasted more than five plays; the Rams had nine.
“We didn’t do well on anything,” New England coach Bill Belichick said.
The Patriots offense didn’t get a first down until 3:10 remained in the first half and finished with 12. Their defense gave up 30.
“They were able to move the ball at will,” safety James Sanders said. “It was demoralizing.”
New Rams owner Stan Kroenke had a much different feeling. One day after the NFL approved him, he went into his team’s locker room before the game.
“That was terrific,” Spagnuolo said. “He stayed for the entire game – late into the night.”
The Patriots had rallied from a 27-14 deficit to a 35-27 lead on Brady’s touchdown passes of 65 yards to Randy Moss and 20 yards to Gronkowski and Brian Hoyer’s 5-yarder to Sam Aiken with 11:14 left after an interception by Brandon McGowan.
Keith Toston scored on a 2-yard run but an incomplete pass for a conversion left the Rams behind 35-33.
They got the ball back after a punt and kept shredding the defense. Quarterback Keith Null directed a 41-yard drive to the Patriots 19 and Brown won the game with his third field goal.
Bradford led scoring drives on three of his first four series.
He went 4 for 4 for 48 yards and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Michael Hoomanawanui on his first series. On his third possession, Bradford was 3 for 4 for 48 yards, setting 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 after Gronkowski’s 14-yard touchdown catch, putting St. Louis ahead 20-14 at halftime.
Bradford “made some good throws,” Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden said, “but we didn’t make a lot of plays to make him look bad.”
Another Rams rookie quarterback, free agent Thaddeus Lewis from Duke, led a 15-play, 76-yard march on the first series of the third quarter. It lasted 9 minutes, 19 seconds and ended with a 20-yard scoring pass to Brandon Gibson.
The Patriots had grabbed the lead just 12 seconds into the game on a 97-yard kickoff 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.
And that’s what he did.
Notes: Donnie Avery, who led Rams receivers with 47 catches last year, “probably has a significant knee injury,” Spagnuolo said. Avery was hurt late in the first half when he jumped and landed after a long pass to him fell incomplete. … The Patriots rushed for just 28 yards on 11 carries., Two Rams runners, Toston with 41 yards and Kenneth Darby with 35, outgained them. … Wes Welker, playing for the second straight week after major knee surgery in February, had two catches for 41 yards for the Patriots.