After four games, the Rams are 2-2, and Bradford has made his share of rookie mistakes. He recognizes that himself. But he has also accepted his leadership role, and his teammates believe in him.
Asked his expectations entering the season, coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "I don't think any of us ever know until you get into a real live regular-season NFL game. We certainly saw hints of it in the preseason. We all did. Everybody in here. And then we were hopeful that when the speed of the game jacked up in the regular season, he would speed up with it, and he has. I just think that the players that are playing with him are confident in him, and I think that gets him a little bit more confident. He's a great competitor, and I think that filters through the whole offense."
Bradford feels it, even though he can be his own worst critic.
He said, "I feel like I've improved each week, and I feel like I've gotten more comfortable out there each week, which I think is a huge positive. I feel like coach (Pat) Shurmur (the offensive coordinator) is starting to gain more trust in me. Even when I'm out there, I feel like he's more comfortable with me being out there, and I feel good. I think as long as I continue to improve, by the end of the year, then I'll be in a pretty good spot."
However, he won't use being a rookie as an excuse. He had a bad interception in the end zone against Seattle, and he sailed some passes to open receivers.
Said Bradford, "I feel like anytime on the field, whether I'm a rookie or not, there's no way a quarterback should make mistakes like that. I don't think I played very good (Sunday). I think I've got a lot of room for improvement, and I know that I'm gonna have to be better down the road once we get into some closer ballgames. I just felt like I missed some easy throws. I felt like I was just off-target on a couple throws. They didn't hurt us (Sunday), but down the road in a close ballgame, we need to keep drives going, need to keep the offense on the field -- they could come back to haunt us. It's really just me slowing down, staying in rhythm, and then delivering an accurate ball."
Spagnuolo admitted that he and his staff have to catch themselves from expecting too much, always being mindful that Bradford is a rookie.
Talking about watching tape Monday morning, Spagnuolo said, "There were some throws in this game that weren't exactly perfect. "As we sat there with the offensive staff and we were watching it, it was like we were disappointed in Sam -- rookie quarterback, fourth game of his career (Spagnuolo put four fingers in the air when he said that) -- because it's not perfect. We sat there, we kind of stepped back and I might have said it or (quarterbacks coach) Dick (Curl) might have said it, 'You do realize ...' The expectations now (are higher), but he's earned that. And he put that on himself, too. He would say the exact same thing. That's how he operates."
Acknowledging that Bradford is his own toughest critic, Spagnuolo mentioned the quarterback's demeanor after he makes a poor throw.
"He comes right over to the sideline and knows immediately," Spagnuolo said, "And usually it's, 'You rushed it a little bit, your feet weren't set.' It's usually some technique."
Bradford and Spagnuolo meet each Tuesday with the coach discussing some nuance of defense or what to expect from the upcoming opponent.
Said Bradford, "They've been really helpful. Especially early in the week to meet with him, when he points out some of the things he notices on tape. When he does that early in the week, that means I have the rest of the week to really go in and watch what he told me and pick up on anything more that there might be as far as what they're going to try and do, so I think those meetings with him have definitely been beneficial."
As Bradford looks ahead to the remainder of the season, he says there is no reason the Rams shouldn't stay in contention for the division title.
He said, "I think we're gonna have to continue to improve. I think if we level off right now, then it's going to be a long rest of the year. But I think if we continue on the track that we're on right now, and we continue to improve each week, then we can definitely compete for the division. There is a sense of confidence in the locker room. I think it's changed from Week 1 to now. It's totally different.
"Coach talks to us each week about going out there and expecting to win, and I think we went into the past two weeks expecting to win, which is huge. Any time a team can take the field expecting, not hoping, to win, I think it changes the entire way you play a football game."
- In 2008, he tried to play with a quad injury in a key division game against Arizona. Last year, he played five of the final six games of the season with a herniated disk in his back and nerve pain in his leg even though the team had only one victory.
Maybe it's no surprise then, that Rams running back Steven Jackson did everything he humanly could to be on the field Sunday for his team's game against the Seattle Seahawks despite the partially torn groin he had suffered the week before against the Washington Redskins.
His team. Jackson is one of several veteran leaders on a very young football team, and as he peeled off three layers of protective padding following the surprisingly easy 20-3 win, he stated simply, "I was not able to run full speed. But as a leader, you can't preach one thing and do something else."
What he did was gut out a 70-yard rushing effort, adding 54 receiving yards, the bulk of which came on a 49-yard run with a screen pass that led to a third-quarter touchdown and a 17-3 lead.
Asked if the injury affected him, Jackson said, "Absolutely," then laughed and added, "Did you see that run?"
He admitted to consciously thinking on that run not to try and run too fast and "overextend myself, taking smaller steps," minimizing the chance of aggravating the injury.
But he simply wasn't going to miss this game.
"I knew I had enough to give what coach would need out of me," Jackson said. "I wanted to come out and be a part of something. I felt that this team is going in the right direction, and I just wanted to be a part of it today.
"It's been a long time -- 2004 (since beating Seattle). I know we have a philosophy around here that we don't look back. But sometimes you just can't help but think about some of the hardship that this organization has been through. For us to be able to get a win against Seattle at home, a divisional win, it means a lot to me. I think it means a lot to the guys that are in this locker room."
During the week, Jackson did very little on the field. Off the field was another story. There was still a pocket of blood in his groin area on Thursday, "so there was quite a bit of swelling," he said. "Just continued to work hard. I would literally ... I would take a stim (muscle stimulation) machine home with me. I was doing acupuncture; I was doing everything. I was literally stimming myself at four in the morning trying to make sure that I could get whatever edge, whatever I could do to get back on the field. All I can say is, I just thank God it worked out."
Then, there was the work of the training and medical staff to protect him as much as possible.
"Look at all of this stuff that kept me together," he said after the game. "They got so many things wrapped on me, I couldn't move my leg in the wrong direction even if I tried. Look at this. Strapped in pretty good. And I have two more pairs of compression shorts on under this too."
The compression shorts had what looked like the bubble-wrap used in packing boxes. He had tape going in several directions with straps, criss-crossing his upper and lower thigh and waist.
He said, "It is just to lock the groin in and make sure I do not get overextended, kind of what happened last week. At the same time, you give away the lack of opening up and being able to run fast. But luckily," he said with a smile, "I'm 240, right?"
His effort wasn't lost on his teammates. Said quarterback Sam Bradford, when asked if he thought Jackson would play as much as he did, "Yeah, I did. Just knowing Jack and knowing the type of competitor he is. I think he understood how important this game was for this football team. I never doubted that he would be out there today. I think that's a huge credit to him and the type of player and the type of competitor he is, because I know he was battling out there. He wasn't a hundred percent, but to come out and play the way he did, it really helped this football team."
Coach Steve Spagnuolo said he "really didn't know" whether Jackson would play, but then acknowledged, "My guess would have been that there's no way he keeps himself out of the game -- that would have been my guess. Steven's a warrior and we left it on him. He went out and warmed up; didn't have to do very much. He was ready to go. I think his mindset was that he was going to go. I just asked him to be sure that it wasn't going to set him back at all. He knows his body. I've said this before, he deserves that privilege of deciding whether or not he can go or not."
The day began ominously on the first play of the game with a run by Jackson for minus-3 yards. Of his 22 carries, four were for minus yardage and another seven were for two yards or less. Those 11 attempts totaled minus-7 yards. But, his other 11 went for 77, and as a testament to his staying power, Jackson had 12 rushes for 42 yards in the final 15 minutes as the Rams owned a 17-3 lead for most of the fourth quarter.
Jackson's presence certainly was instrumental in the victory. Asked about the lift the team received by having Jackson on the field, Bradford said, "It's huge. He's a huge part of this offense. A lot of what we do goes through him. Even in the passing game with him in the backfield, defenses will have to respect the run. So any time he's in the huddle, there's no doubt that it boosts the spirits of everyone in the huddle."
Jackson also became the second-leading rusher in franchise history on a 15-yard run with just under 12 minutes to play in the game, passing Marshall Faulk. Jackson finished the game with 6,991 career yards, 254 behind Eric Dickerson. The officials stopped the game, and exchanged balls so Jackson could have the ball he carried to pass Faulk.
"That's special," Spagnuolo said of Jackson. "He deserves it. He worked for it. I thought that was a great thing. I really thought what the officials did too, that's a little thing, but I mean, I thought that was pretty classy that they stopped and made sure that he got the football for that."
Saying it felt good to pass Faulk against Seattle, Jackson said, "Day one when I stepped into this organization, I set a tone that I want to leave here setting a presence, putting my footprint on this organization. Hats off to my offensive line, all the guys over the years that I've played with, to help me get to this point. It's very meaningful, but I'm eyeing first place. Today, more importantly, two wins in a row is what I'm really proud of."
- The Rams had a chance to take a 14-3 lead late in the first half after an interception return by CB Bradley Fletcher put the ball at the Seattle 3-yard line. On second down from the 2, QB Sam Bradford forced a pass to WR Mark Clayton and old nemesis Earl Thomas intercepted in the end zone.
Said Bradford afterward, "Bad play, bad throw, bad read. Pretty much everything a quarterback can do bad, I pretty much did it on that play right there. I think I probably got a little excited, wanted to put points up, wanted to go up 14-3 in that situation where I need to understand that it's not worth forcing anything down there. I should have thrown that ball away and got us to the next down."
As for putting bad plays behind him, Bradford said, "You've got to let it go. You can't think about it. Obviously, any time you do something like that, it bothers you. It frustrates you, but playing this position you've got to have a short memory. Whether you make a good play or bad play, you've got to forget about it and understand that the most important play is the next play, and that's what I tried to do today."
It was also frustrating that Thomas, the former University of Texas defensive back who has victimized Bradford in the past, made the pick.
"Yeah, he reminded me of that," Bradford said. Of course, the final score was in Bradford's favor as was the previous day's Oklahoma victory over Texas.
However, while making the diving tackle, Dockery's helmet came off and Ryan's cleat caught Dockery in the head, causing a laceration that needed 13 stitches to repair.
He came back to play, but then reinjured his hamstring, an injury that occurred in the season opener against Arizona.
Said Dockery, "It'll be all right. I just kind of tweaked it."
- The special teams were able to contain Seattle kickoff returner Leon Washington and punt returner Golden Tate. Washington's long was 30 yards and he averaged 26.7 yards on three returns. Tate was only able to return three of Donnie Jones' punts for a total of 18 yards.
Said long snapper Chris Massey, who contributed to the coverage with two tackles, "Donnie did a pretty good job pinning them in the corners, and the coverage team, we rose up and played hard and covered well down the field. Josh made some good kickoffs. That was the emphasis all week -- how good their return game was."
- Coach Steve Spagnuolo admitted to being "concerned" during the practice week about how the team would respond after beating Washington the week before.
After the win over Seattle, he said, "I thought the team came out and performed, like we'd talked about all week. I was little bit concerned there during the week that the hunger was gone. That achieving one win would be all that they wanted to get because I knew down deep that wasn't the case, but I was concerned about it. And being a divisional game, you need a little bit of intensity coming out of there, especially being at home. You have to win your division games at home. And I thought they came out with the right mindset. We got up early. Stumbled there a little bit, when we got the turnover and couldn't get in the end zone, but again these guys with the resolve and determination, they didn't stick their head in the sand. They came right out and played pretty good football, so I was happy about that."
Asked if anything happened during the week that created that concern, Spagnuolo smiled and said, "That's just me being a coach. That's just me. They could have been perfect all week and I would have thought that way."
Spagnuolo's players are now starting to talk and think like him.
Said K Josh Brown after the win, "I'm not overly excited about it. I think coach said it best. We expected to win this game. We prepared well. We worked hard this week. And it paid off. It absolutely paid off. We put them in some situations they couldn't get out of, and we just kept pushing and pushing and pushing."
"It feels great," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "Especially starting out 0-2, and being so close to wins those first two weeks. To come back and battle back, get ourselves to 2-2 and just be in the conversation to be in the divisional lead, I think that's big for this team."
- During the practice week, RB Kenneth Darby said he had a celebration planned if he was able to score another touchdown. He wouldn't give it away, but said it had something to do with a shark.
So it was that Darby scored on a 21-yard run with a screen pass, but he dived in the end zone and then was mobbed by teammates. He still did a brief shark dance.
Said Darby, "It probably wasn't the perfect way to do it. I think I need a little practice. I haven't done it in a while. I told you I was going to hit it, though, so I tried to be a man of my word."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
- QB Sam Bradford has a passer rating of just 72.3 after four games. However, he has been especially clutch on third down, completing 28 of 49 passes for 350 yards with two touchdowns and, most important, no interceptions. That computes to a passer rating of 93.1, 10th-best in the league.
- RB Steven Jackson had 12 rushes for 42 yards in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over Seattle, showing staying power despite playing with an injured groin. Jackson now has 6,991 career rushing yards, and he passed Marshall Faulk to move into second place on the team's all-time yardage list. He needs 255 yards to pass Eric Dickerson for first place.
- RB Kenneth Darby scored a touchdown for the second consecutive week. His 21-yard scoring play on a screen pass was the first touchdown reception of his career.
- WR Mark Clayton, acquired in a trade just six days before the season opener, remains QB Sam Bradford's favorite target. Clayton was targeted 14 times Sunday against Seattle, catching five passes for 72 yards. He leads the team with 22 receptions for 300 yards (13.6 average).
- WR Danny Amendola added another five receptions Sunday against Seattle, including one highlight-reel, one-handed grab. Amendola, signed off the Eagles' practice squad last season, now has 21 receptions for 208 yards.
- TE Daniel Fells is becoming more consistent each week, and he could be gaining the confidence of QB Sam Bradford. He had three catches for 35 yards Sunday, just the fifth time in his career that he's had at least three receptions in a game.
- K Josh Brown reached the end zone on one of three kickoffs Sunday against Seattle, and two other kicks were fielded at the goal line and the 1-yard line. There was also one squib kick, which gave the Seahawks their best field position (the 42-yard line) after a kickoff. For the season, Brown has reached the end zone on 12 of 17 kickoffs, and the opponent's average drive start of 24.5 ranks ninth in the league.
- LB David Vobora, who has been sharing time with Larry Grant at weak-side linebacker, had the first sack of his career in the second quarter against Seattle when he got to Matt Hasselbeck for a 7-yard loss.
- CB Bradley Fletcher, who has returned from a serious knee injury suffered when he was a rookie last season, had an interception against Seattle, the second straight week he has picked off a pass.
REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- QB Sam Bradford had one bad end-zone interception, but also had two touchdown passes, threw for 289 yards and registered a passer rating of 84.3. He locked in on WR Mark Clayton for the interception and 14 of his 41 attempts were for Clayton, who had five receptions for 72 yards. Two screen passes to RBs Steven Jackson and Kenneth Darby totaled 70 yards, with Darby scoring on a 21-yard screen play. Bradford was sacked four times.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- The ground game was tremendously productive with a limited Jackson on the field, but it was enough to keep the Seattle defense honest. Jackson often came out on third-down plays, and when someone else carried the ball, Darby and Keith Toston gained just four yards on three attempts.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- The pressure was good, getting to Matt Hasselbeck four times, and pressuring him even more. Hasselbeck passed for only 191 yards with 58 coming in the fourth quarter. He completed 55.6 percent of his passes, just a little higher than the 54.5-percernt completion rate against the Rams entering the game. That figure is now 55.1, one of the better marks in the league.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Justin Forsett did very little damage with just 65 yards on 19 attempts with a long of 12. Michael Robinson and Leon Washington had four yards combined on two carries, so the Seattle running backs totaled 69 yards on 21 carries (3.3-yard average).
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- The only thing keeping this from an A is the lack of plays from the return teams. Mardy Gilyard had 42 yards on two kickoff returns and Danny Amendola had just 19 yards on four punt returns. Otherwise, the special teams were stellar. P Donnie Jones put four of his seven punts inside the 20 and he had a 40.4-yard net. That figure was hurt by a touchback on a punt that was almost perfect, but hit the goal line before going out of bounds. Seattle PR Golden Tate had 18 yards on three returns after entering the game with a 25.2-yard average. Leon Washington's average on kickoff returns was 46.3, thanks to two touchdowns the week before against San Diego. But he averaged 26.7 on three returns with a long of 30. PK Josh Brown hit two field goals against his former team.
COACHING: A -- Head coach Steve Spagnuolo has always preached about the process, and stayed calm amid loss after loss believing the tide would turn. There's still a lot of football left to say it definitely has, but the signs are there. Players have bought in, young players are learning how to win and play in the fourth quarter. And when players know the system, coordinators can be confident in what they call.