Rams backup quarterback Chris Chandler will turn 39 in October - ancient by NFL standards. But he proved Thursday night on the Edward Jones Dome turf that plenty of life remains in his arm. And his legs.
On the Rams' first possession in their exhibition-opening 13-10 overtime loss to Chicago, first-team QB Marc Bulger directed a 12-play, 64-yard march that ended with a 33-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins. Then Bulger handed off to Chandler, who performed like the 17-year NFL veteran that he is.
Though Chandler has called coach Mike Martz's intricate attack "the most challenging offense I've ever been in," he was more than efficient at the controls. Chandler completed eight of nine passes for 108 of the Rams' 222 passing yards. He also engineered the team's only touchdown drive, a four-play, 86-yard march that took only 2 minutes off the clock.
"He did a great job," Martz said. "For a guy his age, he gets plenty of zip on the ball. I was very pleased with his performance."
Chandler said: "I felt like I saw everything the way I was supposed to see it and threw the ball well. When you have an understanding of this offense, it's really a fun one to work within."
The TD march began with a 2-yard run by running back Steven Jackson, the team's No. 1 draft choice. Then Chandler hooked up with second-year wide receiver Shaun McDonald for a 40-yard gain. On the next play, Chandler lofted a pass for wideout Kevin Curtis, who had sprinted past the defense.
When cornerback Eric Kelly hauled down Curtis, the pass interference call gave the Rams an additional 30 yards and a first down at the Chicago 14. Two plays later, Chandler nimbly spun away from a pair of rushing defenders, sprinted to his right and hit fullback Joey Goodspeed, who scampered 13 yards to the end zone.
Bulger was impressed with Chandler's mobility.
"He was running around a lot more than I thought he could," Bulger said.
After the Bears punted, Chandler had the offense moving again. He hit Jackson twice with short tosses, then on successive snaps connected with McDonald near the right sideline for 8 yards, Curtis for 19 down the middle and McDonald again on the right side for 9. With 33 seconds to go, the Rams had advanced to the Chicago 39.
"He stepped in there and made some plays," said McDonald, who led receivers with five catches for 78 yards. "You're not in the league for that long for no reason."
An interception halted the drive, but Chandler wasn't culpable. His pass down the left sideline nestled into Curtis' arms, but Kelly charged up from behind and snatched the ball away.
"I thought I had it and ... the next thing I know, he had the ball," Curtis said. "He just kind of wrestled it away from me."
That finished Chandler's night, but it was a productive one.
"He put the ball right on people, right in their chest," Curtis said. "I was impressed. I think everyone was."
Bulger finished three of six passing for 57 yards. Rookie Jeff Smoker, the team's sixth-round draft choice, played the entire second half. He hit on seven of 14 passes for 81 yards, without an interception.
"I had my ups and downs," said Smoker, a Michigan State product. "I would've liked to be perfect, but realistically, I didn't expect to be. But I thought I made some really good throws."