Top pick winding up memorable rookie year

By R.B. FALLSTROM, AP Sports Writer
1 hour, 3 minutes ago

ST. LOUIS (AP)—Sam Bradford already has one of Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie quarterback records and is on the verge of nabbing another.

No trouble living up to expectations for this No. 1 pick.

Bradford has been durable, easing doubts about how well his surgically repaired throwing shoulder would hold up while taking every snap for the St. Louis Rams (7-8). Accurate and consistent, too, the key element in a much improved offense for a team that’s one win away from its first playoff berth since 2004.

Every step of the way, from late April to minicamps to preseason and then starting the opener, the Rams have been impressed.

“He’s obviously extremely talented, and I think he works his ***** off to make sure that he does the right things and masters the game plan,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “So to say I would be surprised, I would say no.

“To be thankful that he is what he is, I would say yes.”

Bradford has 335 completions, nine more than Manning had in 1998. He can eclipse Manning’s record of 575 attempts with 22 passes in Sunday night’s NFC West title showdown. It would take a monster effort—383 yards—to top Manning’s rookie standard of 3,739 yards, but he needs only 84 more yards to pass Matt Ryan (2008) for second place.

Bradford’s 18 touchdown passes is tied with Fran Tarkenton and Joe Namath for fifth, but with two more he can pass Jim Plunkett and tie Dan Marino for third overall. Manning had 26 touchdown passes and Charlie Connerly had 22 in 1948.

Earlier in the year, Bradford set an NFL rookie record with 169 consecutive passes without an interception. If he goes the distance against the Seahawks, he’ll become the fourth rookie quarterback since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978 to take every snap.

The biggest number of all is what he’s provided for a once woebegone franchise that won one game last season and now is one win from the playoffs.

“Growing up, it’s what you dream about,” Bradford said. “You dream about playing in the playoffs and making it to the Super Bowl, so the fact that we have an opportunity to make it to the playoffs in my first year, I think it’s awesome.”

Sure, there’s been disappointment. He threw two interceptions in losses to the Chiefs and Saints, had interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Lions and Saints, and had a three-week stretch without a touchdown pass. Bradford refused to let it linger.

“Not all the games go the right way and not all the throws go the right way for anybody,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “But he has withstood that, and I think that shows a tremendous amount of character and confidence and just ability.

“I think Sam is off to a fantastic start to his career.”

All year the Rams have tried to lean on running back Steven Jackson, taking some of the responsibility off Bradford’s shoulders. Jackson, who made his third Pro Bowl this week, has 1,196 yards rushing and 344 yards receiving, and leads the NFL in carries (319) and total touches (361).

Jackson was held to 48 yards on 24 carries in last week’s 25-17 victory over the *****, and is averaging a career-worst 3.7 yards per carry. But he’s keeping the defenses occupied, making it easier on Bradford.

“Guys are going to play eight guys in the box typically against us,” Jackson said. “What impressed me was that our offensive coordinator stuck with calling the runs even though they weren’t too successful.

“Knowing we’re going to run the ball, it allowed for things to open up in the passing game.”

The Rams have passed a lot more than had been anticipated. Only Manning and the Saints’ Drew Brees(notes) have thrown more. That shows the team’s trust in a player who has never acted like a rookie.

“If you asked me before the season, I probably wouldn’t have said that we would have thrown the ball as much,” Bradford said. “The fact that our coaching staff feels comfortable with the ball in my hands just gives me confidence.

“It makes me feel very good about going out there on Sundays.”