DENVER – On Wednesday of last week, Rams running back
Jackson immediately chafed at the idea because he knows better than anyone that every team the Rams play from henceforth will do everything possible to slow him down.
“It was tough,” Jackson said. “I had a feeling that would happen. I really did. I knew it was going to be tough sledding and what I am really happy and pleased with is we made them pay for it.”
So it was that the task of “making them pay for it” would fall into the hands of rookie quarterback
Without Jackson having one of his signature days, that left opportunities galore for Bradford to have a big day.
“It seemed like all day the box was loaded and they were trying to take Jack away which for the most part they did a good job of but when they do that, they give a lot of one on one matchups outside,” Bradford said. “And I thought our wide receivers did a great job of creating space and getting open today.”
Indeed. Bradford and the receiver group surged to their finest offensive performance of the season as they repeatedly took to the airways to make big play after big play.
With one on one coverage for receivers most of the day, Bradford and the Rams posted seven pass plays of 17 yards or more, including a 45-yard strike to receiver
All told, Bradford finished with 308 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-37 passing with no interceptions for a rating of 113.3 and the best statistical effort of his young career.
“People are going to find ways to do that,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Steven is a premiere player in the league and if you can’t punch one through there or bust one out somehow, we have to try to loosen it up and that’s where the quarterback comes into play.”
Bradford wasn’t the only one who seemed to like it as he repeatedly spread the ball around to different receivers.
In fact, Bradford completed passes to nine different pass catchers and hit tight ends for all three of his scoring strikes.
Considering the circumstances, Bradford’s performance was all the more impressive. Denver has one of the loudest, most intimidating homefield advantages in the league as it is. But it was compounded to become more difficult as Bradford’s helmet had issues with the headset and he wasn’t able to consistently get the plays without having to rely on signals from the sideline.
Of course, the wise and poised beyond his years Bradford wasn’t fazed by any of that.
“I think Sam likes that in some regards,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s a very competitive guy. He understands football completely so when he looks out there and says ‘OK, this is how they are going to approach it defensively, it’s time for me to do my part’ and I think he likes that.”
ALEXANDER RETURNS: One thing Bradford had to like during Sunday’s game was the return of Alexander to the lineup from his fifth knee surgery.
Alexander had provided the offense a spark in his debut against San Diego but another knee injury in practice a few weeks later put him back on the shelf.
After nearly playing last week against Atlanta, Alexander was told on Tuesday that plays were in the game plan for him and he was assured Wednesday he’d be playing this week.
Any lingering doubt about Alexander’s ability to come back and contribute was erased in those very same practices.
“We felt like he did it all week in practice,” Bradford said. “There were times when he would come back from a play and I kind of looked at AJ (Feeley) and we were like ‘he was moving right there.’ We knew his knee was back and he had his speed back so we knew he had the opportunity to have a game like he had today.”
All Alexander did in his return was revert to the role of resident play maker and field stretcher. At 6’5 with good speed, Alexander gives the Rams an element in the passing game that they certainly lack when he’s not on the field.
“Of course, I try to stretch the field and really drive off the defense,” Alexander said. “Coach did a great job of calling plays for me so I am glad to be a contributor to this offense.”
Alexander certainly did that in coming up with four catches for 95 yards including a 45-yard bomb down the left sideline to set up a touchdown. In addition, he drew a pass interference penalty on a play that would have been a touchdown had he not been grabbed.
With the Broncos playing man to man on the outside, Alexander made it a point to prove that playing one on one against Rams receivers can be a dangerous proposition.
“I feel like if you play man to man, I want to beat anybody that is covering me,” Alexander said. “I don’t wan to say it’s disrespectful but it’s a great opportunity.”
BAJEMA’S BIG DAY: While Alexander was making a big splash in his third NFL game, tight end
While he’s a seasoned veteran with plenty of experience, Bajema had never caught a touchdown pass. Never, that is, until there were 5 minutes and 45 seconds to go in the first half when he grabbed a 2-yard toss from Bradford for his first NFL touchdown.
Less than three minutes later, he grabbed No. 2 on a 26-yard strike from Bradford.
“It was exciting,” Bajema said. “The best thing about it was just getting in the end zone and making a couple of plays to try to help the team win because it turned out we needed every score we got at the end of the game. Sam threw great passes and fortunately we were able to get in and score.”
Making it even sweeter was Bajema’s resilience in getting to paydirt. Only a couple plays before his first score, Bajema had dropped a sure first down while wide open on a crossing pattern.
But Bradford wasted no time going right back to him.
“That made it that much better because after a play like that I just wanted another chance to kind of redeem myself and make a play and fortunately it wasn’t too long before they called my number again,” Bajema said.
INJURY REPORT: The Rams entered Sunday’s game almost completely healthy. And they left nearly the same way with one exception per Spagnuolo.
“The concern is the ankle,” Spagnuolo said. “We’ll know more when we get the MRI but at first we thought it was a broken fibula. It wasn’t that. It may fall in that high ankle sprain area but we’ll see.”
Jackson aggravated his hand injury but said he is no worse for the wear after the game. Middle linebacker