It's only one week, but St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford stepped up in a major way in a moment where he was desperately needed. Bradford's performance in Sunday's 27-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals was exactly what Rams fans were looking for in the former number one overall draft pick. It was, dare I say, "elite."
Bradford entered 2013 with a lot to prove. After three mediocre seasons in the NFL and the emergence of other young quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, the "B" word was starting to be bandied about when Bradford's name came up. ESPN's Ron Jaworski's controversial quarterback rankings this past off season had Bradford ranked 22nd out of 32 NFL starters.
On Sunday, with the Rams trailing 24-13 entering the fourth quarter, Bradford performed far beyond his pedestrian predictions, guiding his team to a comeback victory. It wasn't just the results, though, that made Bradford's performance among the NFL's best in week one. It was his calm, steady and consistent play throughout the game that stood out.
Four quarterbacks still have games on Monday, but with 28 of the 32 starters' performances in the books, Bradford turned in a top 10 performance in several key statistical categories. Bradford's completion percentage of 71.1 was sixth overall this week. Bradford also turned in top 10 numbers in touchdowns (2) and QB Rating (100.7). Behind Bradford in those statistics were quarterbacks named Brady, Ryan, Roethlisberger and Flacco. Only Brady among that group earned his team a victory in week one. Moreover, Bradford's QB rating would have been much higher had not Jared Cook fumbled a sure touchdown in the first half.
The most important number Bradford recorded on Sunday was zero. That's the number of sacks he took. Only Jay Cutler and EJ Manuel avoided being sacked besides Bradford on Sunday. While credit certainly goes to the Rams' offensive line for that fact, Bradford deserves much of the credit. On Sunday, Bradford showed a pocket awareness that has clearly been missing from his game to this point. His ability to recognize pressure and step up in the pocket or scramble away from it was critical to the Rams' victory. On one particular first half play, Bradford scrambled right, away from oncoming pressure and found Tavon Austin coming back to him to pick up positive yardage. These are the kinds of plays "elite" quarterbacks make to keep drives alive.
That's not to say Bradford doesn't have room to grow. He got away with one ill-advised throw into triple coverage in the first half that probably should have been picked. He also either doesn't have the leeway or the recognition to change out of bad play calls at the line of scrimmage. On a couple of occasions Sunday the Rams played right into the teeth of Arizona's defensive alignment. If Bradford is to remain in the "elite" group and make the Rams contenders, he must have the ability to check out of empty backfields against blitzes coming up the middle.
There's one stat that will ultimately define Bradford, however, and he got one of those yesterday. Winning games will get his name mentioned with the Mannings and the Bradys of the NFL.
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