With RGIII in town, Bradford gets bright young career back on track
Despite a down '11, Rams showed faith in Sam Bradford by trading RGIII pick
Against the 'Skins, Bradford showed the ability that made him the 2010 top pick
Bradford kept Danny Amendola busy, even after Amendola's costly early fumble
ST. LOUIS -- His team expressed hope in him when it eyed him with a pricey draft pick. It solidified its faith in him when it made that whopper of a trade last spring. And now the young, highly hyped, strong-armed quarterback is repaying that trust and living up to everyone's high expectations.
The latest evidence is what he did in the Redskins-Rams game Sunday. He completed 26 of 35 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Yes indeed, this kid sure can play.
Oh, did you think we were referring to Robert Griffin III, the young prodigy of the Redskins? Well, yes, he certainly looks like he has a long, successful NFL career ahead of him. But let's hold up a bit on sculpting his bust for the Hall of Fame.
RGIII played well Sunday, connecting on 20 of 29 attempts for 206 yards and one touchdown and adding another dimension with his nifty footwork (11 runs for 89 yards and two TDs). But Rams quarterback Sam Bradford played better, and his fingerprints were most deeply imprinted on a Rams' 31-28 victory that was so full of intrigue and back-and-forth action that most of the nearly 54,000 fans in attendance surely lost the faux, stick-on, Jeff Fisher mustaches that were distributed before the game.
So here was Fisher, the Rams' head coach and the guy with the real 'stache, commenting on Bradford's performance after the game. Someone asked the first-year St. Louis coach if that was the Bradford he had signed up to coach.
"Sure is," Fisher said. "He was dialed in all week and certainly dialed in today. Sam's played two great games against two difficult defenses."
The Rams visualized the kind of game Bradford had Sunday when they took him with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft and paid him a hefty $50 million guaranteed. Although Fisher and general manager Les Snead weren't Rams employees back then, they certainly expressed their confidence in Bradford last spring, when they pulled off a monster deal with the Redskins. In it they swapped first-round picks with Washington, moving out of the second spot, where they surely could have had Griffin for the taking, and pocketed the Redskins' sixth slot plus received a second-round pick in 2012 and first-rounders in 2013 and 2014 for their troubles.
At this point, it's fair to say both teams are happy with their quarterbacks. Griffin, 22, announced his entry into the NFL with an impressive opening game against the Saints in Week 1 (320 yards passing, 42 running, 2 TDs, becoming the first rookie QB to be named Offensive Player of the Week in his first game since the award began in 1984). He's going to have many great days in the NFL.
Then there is Bradford, 24, who is coming off a disappointing, injury-marred sophomore season. His game against the Redskins, combined with how he played in a last-second loss to the Lions in Week 1, is evidence that he is feeling more comfortable in both his own game and the ability of his teammates to overcome adversity. That was evident after the opening play of this game, when wide receiver Danny Amendola fumbled the ball after a 10-yard gain and Washington cornerback Josh Wilson returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. How long has it been since Bradford has felt this good?
"It's been a while," he said, surrounded by a pack of reporters in front of his locker after the game. "I think after looking at it last week and this week, being able to fight back from being down early, I think it says a lot about this group. We're never going to quit. We're going to keep going."
And Bradford isn't going to lose faith in Amendola, who he covets as his go-to guy receiver like Linus covets his blankie. It was apparent that Amendola, who suffered a dislocated elbow in the season opener last year and was lost for the rest of the season, was going to remain a big part of the Rams' game plan despite his opening-play error.
"When we got to the sideline [after the opening play], that's the first thing I said to him," Bradford said. " 'I'm coming right back to you.' Just because he [fumbled), there's no way I'm ever going to stop throwing him the ball. Obviously, it's nice to have him back out there on the field."
Bradford targeted Amendola early and often. In fact, seven of Bradford's first eight passes were to Amendola, who caught an NFL-record-tying 12 passes in the first half. He finished the game with 15 receptions for 160 yards and one touchdown.
The Rams' victory wasn't just a two-man act. Rookie running back Daryl Richardson rushed for 83 yards on 15 carries after replacing regular bellcow Steven Jackson in the first half. Jackson left the game after an unsportsmanlike penalty for spiking the ball; he thought he had scored a touchdown but the officials ruled he was short of the goal line. (After the game, Fisher said Jackson was pulled because of a goin injury and not the penalty, although there was no such report made in the press box.) Reserve tight end Matthew Mulligan blocked a Washington punt and shortly thereafter caught a 1-yard scoring pass; and the St. Louis defense stood tall when it needed to, including cornerback Cortland Finnegan's drive-stopping pick of Griffin.
Curiously, when the game was on the line, after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty cost the Redskins 15 yards, coach Mike Shanahan opted to go not with the young arm of RGIII, but rather with the somewhat older leg of kicker Billy Cundiff. With the Redskins facing a 4th-and-16 at the Rams 44 and 1:18 left, Shanahan called on the 32-year-old Cundiff to attempt a 62-yard field goal (his career longest is 55). Cundiff came up well short and, two kneel-downs later, Bradford and the Rams were victorious.
If anyone thought having Griffin playing on the same field gave Bradford extra motivation, they were mistaken.
"I go about it the same every week," Bradford said. "I need to play at a high level and play my best to give this team a chance to win. I think I did that today."
In a league that loves premier quarterbacks, two of the youngest and most heralded young guns put on a show Sunday. The older, more experienced one prevailed this time, but there are a lot of good times ahead for both.