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    Strauss: Bradford has become Rams’ closer

    Joe Strauss

    To call it a teaching moment for a fourth-year quarterback would be condescending. To call it a revealing moment might be understatement.

    In a game the Rams had to win within a crushing early schedule, Sam Bradford committed a potentially game-losing mistake during the third quarter of the team’s game last Sunday against Arizona. Rolling from the pocket in his end zone, Bradford hoped to lure the Cardinals’ defensive line toward him to better flick a pass to tight end Lance Kendricks.

    The plan deteriorated when nose tackle Dan Williams tipped and intercepted the ball before returning it 2 yards for a lead-changing score less than five minutes into the second half.

    The lightning strike eventually helped account for an 11-point deficit for the Rams with less than two minutes remaining in the period.

    Had the score held, the Rams would have entered this week looking at a murderers’ row immediate schedule of the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco ***** — and a potential 0-4 start.

    An unsightly home loss predicated on turnovers against a team predicted to finish last in the NFC West would have badly dented the club’s credibility achieved during a promising draft and free-agent signing period.

    Safe to say, Bradford wouldn’t have needed a helmet to sprout horns.

    “It was a big play,” Bradford recalled in the aftermath of a 27-24 win, the Rams’ first in a season opener since 2006. “It gave them seven points. It was unfortunate. But after it happened there was nothing I could do about it except go out, play well and try to help my team come back and win.”

    Instead of wilting,Bradford completed 11 of 13 passes after that interception.

    He guided an 80-yard drive to make a three-point game before moving his offense 50 yards to set up Greg Zuerlein’s winning field goal with 40 seconds remaining on the clock.

    The rally was not a novelty for a quarterback whose every move this season will be scrutinized, magnified and, yes, occasionally taken out of context.

    This much is indisputable: All quarters aren’t created equal in the NFL.

    A league built upon parity and passing increasingly lends itself to last-possession drama. Few things are more injurious than a quarterback who shies from the moment. Though he is not prone to wild gesticulation or sideline tantrums, Bradford does not run from tight situations.

    Last weekend’s comeback marked the fifth time in his career Bradford has rallied the Rams to a fourth-quarter win. He brought the Rams back from deficits five times last season, resulting in a 3-1-1 outcome.

    On Sunday, Bradford and the Rams face the gold standard in fourth-quarter efficiency, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

    Ryan was the third overall selection of the 2008 draft. The Rams made Bradford the top pick of the 2010 class.

    Ryan, 28, has helped the Falcons become a chic Super Bowl pick. Bradford, 25, is trying to get his franchise to its first postseason since 2004.

    Rams coach Jeff Fisher more heavily weighs the fourth quarter “especially when you put a two-minute drive together to get points to win the ballgame. I think the best thing he did (last Sunday) was to just shrug off the interception return for a touchdown and come back and go nine for nine. That shows a lot of experience and confidence. His position’s hard to play; sometimes those things are going to happen. But you can’t let them affect you. He came back and made plays.”

    Last year, in his third system in as many seasons, Bradford might have shown his disappointment. He might have even withdrawn a bit while obsessing about the mistake.

    The only offensive coordinator to have coached Bradford in multiple NFL seasons, Schottenheimer has earned Bradford’s trust. He also has helped him develop a closer’s mentality. Mistakes are to be discarded. Fixate on the task at hand.

    “Quarterback is not a position for perfect,” says Schottenheimer, adapting a phrase noted sports psychologist Bob Rotella once attached to golf. “Things are going to happen. You’re going to make mistakes. Everybody does. What’s important is how you deal with what’s in front of you. Sam has made big steps in that regard.”

    The former Oklahoma Sooner admits to riding the learning curve. “I think when I was younger — especially in college — it was something I struggled with’,’’ he said. “I let plays linger and hang on. And I think Schotty’s been really good about helping me get over that. One play is one play. Whether it’s good or bad, you’ve got to move on to the next one.”

    The bad body language moments are “few and far between now,” says Schottenheimer. “Last year I think the pressure of wanting to learn the system and be perfect ground on him. He wants to be perfect.”

    “He’s just very comfortable in the offense,” Fisher says. “As they play more and more together, I think everybody will be more productive, including Sam.”

    Opponents sniff out indecision like beagles on a hunt. Teammates can interpret a change in voice inflection or slouching shoulders as a show of resignation. Bradford offered none of the above last Sunday, finishing third among 32 quarterbacks in fourth-quarter passer rating (131.7).

    Only the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson (158.1) and the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning (153.3) were better at closing time.

    Sunday afternoon at Georgia Dome offers a steep test for Bradford. The Falcons’ recent regular-season success is largely predicated on a 29-13 record since 2008 in games decided by eight points or fewer. Inside that mark is a 12-5 record in games decided by a field goal or less. Ryan leads the NFL since ’08 with 22 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. (The fourth occurred during Ryan’s rookie season, on Dec. 28, 2008 against the Rams.) It is the most such comebacks in the first five seasons of a career since 1966.

    Ryan is where Bradford wants to be.

    The well-marketed “Matty Ice” carries a career .709 winning percentage constructed with a 62.1 completion percentage on third down. He threw for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. Bradford has achieved a passer rating of 100.0 or better six times in 43 career starts. Ryan owns a 99.1 career figure.

    “The maturation process of a quarterback is fun to watch,” Schottenheimer says. “I’ve been around good ones and watched it happen. Sam’s not different from a Drew Brees. Ultimately you come through the clouds and see how it’s supposed to be. I think he’s begun to figure that out. We’re starting to see the rewards.”

    Should the game Sunday come down to a fourth-quarter duel between opposing gunslingers, the Rams trust they won’t be outdrawn.

    “He certainly has the ability,” Schottenheimer says. “Now here’s a belief in his mind, there’s a belief in his teammates’ mind based on the fact he’s done this before.”

  2. #2
    Nick's Avatar
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    Re: Strauss: Bradford has become Rams’ closer

    I think this was what impressed me the most with Bradford this weekend. He made a pretty awful mistake that gift-wrapped a touchdown for Arizona, but then bounced back and led this team to a victory. It was the sign of a mature quarterback who can shake off adversity and focus on the task at hand.

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