I just watched the St. Louis Rams' Week 14 win over the Bills for a second time. Gritty is the only word that really describes it. The kind of game you imagined for a blustery, wet winter day in Siberia. What stood out to me more than anything was Sam Bradford's play on the final, game-winning drive.
I've wondered about Bradford's ability in the past. In fact, I still have questions about it, but those four minutes, 14 plays and 84 yards were enough to leave me with less skepticism and excited to see what the quarterback can do with three more games this season.
The drive started out rough with an incomplete pass to Matthew Mulligan. Brian Schottenheime dialed up two straight plays for Steven Jackson to carry the ball over the left tackle. Saffold is back on the field for this drive too. On the next play, with pressure on, Bradford makes an iffy throw that's too much for Brandon Gibson to snag on the left side of the field.
The next play is a big one. 2nd-and-10, the Rams are lined up in the shotgun. Lance Kendricks is lined up with his hand in the dirt on the right side next to Barry Richardson. If you watch the Rams' games, you'll notice that Kendricks does the bulk of his work as a blocker, lined up on the line next to either one of the tackles.
Bradford gets the snap and fakes the handoff to Jackson. The Bills send their two edge rushers, but the Rams blockers seal off the side and keep the defensive tackles back in the middle of the line. Bradford has a tight, neat pocket.
Kendricks shoots off the line and Bradford makes a perfect throw for a 22-yard gain on a seam route. Here's the GIF via @squick4n.
Two plays later, on 3rd-and-1, Bradford tries to go to Chris GIvens over the middle for a first down. This is one of those plays were I just don't understand the call. Buffalo has a good run defense, but the Rams have been productive on the ground on this drive. They need one yard. One.
The Bills had the play read perfectly, with the defense pulled up close to the line just in case the Rams handed off to Jackson. Givens cuts in and Bradford throws the ball as soon as he pops up from under center, and it's almost picked off. It probably should have been picked off, but Bills' safety can't get his hands around the ball.
It'd be easy to say that Bradford shouldn't have made the throw, but I don't know that that's the answer. He puts it right on the hands of the safety. He's also firing it out on a timing thing with his receiver, it's reaction not calculation. He's just running the play.
On 4th-and-1 the Rams run a similar play. This time Austin Pettis, who moves to the outside in a presnap adjustment, runs into the middle for a perfect pass and a nine-yard gain. Bradford had a clean pocket and time to get Pettis into his route.
The next two plays aren't pretty. He has a good 4+ seconds in the pocket to work, but stays in there until he can throw deep to Givens in the end zone. The ball sails over its target, a glorified discard throw because the pressure is on him by that point.
On 2nd-and-10, the next play, Bradford gets the snap and stares down Kendricks whose going 10 yards down the field to the left side. It' a bad play. Bradford throws into double coverage, and George Wilson, who had the play diagnosed perfectly, should have had an interception.
Had the ball been picked off, I suspect we'd be having a very different conversation about Bradford, because he almost got burned on that play. But he didn't.
This is where the resiliency thing comes into play. On 3rd-and-10, Bradford gets time in the pocket again, he surveys the field (something he doesn't do regularly) and finds Gibson in front of a defensive back. Bradford puts a bullet into Gibby's body and the receiver makes a great catch for a 15-yard gain.
One play later, Bradford goes back to Gibson for the touchdown on 2nd-and-10.
Gibson's lined up outside on the left. With a man on him the whole time, he streaks into the end zone. Once again, Bradford gets enough time in the pocket and makes a perfect throw. Gibson goes up to get a better angle on his man, and catches the ball right in his belly.
Here's the angle from the broadcast feed. Watch Mario Williams, on the right side over Barry Richardson. The Rams right tackle rides the $94 million free agent defensive end right out of picture, keeping the Bills' prized pass rusher out of Bradford's way.
To me, this drive encompassed everything about Sam Bradford. Everything that makes fans frustrated and impatient with him and everything that makes fans anxious to see more of what he can do. There were bad plays and incredible plays, and the outcome of this game could have easily turned out exactly the opposite had Wilson caught the ball.
I think you can say that for almost any player in the NFL. The difference between a bad game and a good game is, sometimes, just plain dumb luck. Bradford got a second and third chance to make something out of this drive, and he did. That's been the theme of his NFL career so far. Let's hope it continues.