Say whatever you wish about Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams' poor offensive play through most of their Week 14 game Sunday. They'll take the 15-12 victory over Buffalo and the newfound relevance it provided.
Around the NFC West: Dec. 10, 2012
"Sam's not a guy who gets flustered," Rams coach Jeff Fisher told reporters afterward. "He understands what's going on, he has respect for the defense, respect for their cover ability. All week, we even talked about it last night, there’s gonna be some balls knocked down, there's gonna be times where we get off the field on third down without converting, but if we just hang in there, someone needs to make a play, and he did."
The plan cannot be to stink up the stadium for three quarters, then suddenly come to life. That has not been the Rams' offensive reality every week, but what happened Sunday in Buffalo is part of a pattern. And it's not necessarily a pathway to sustained success.
Bradford ranks 24th in NFL passer rating (78.5) and 31st in Total QBR (32.5) during the first three quarters of games this season. Those figures are well below the combined 86.6 rating and 56.9 QBR for all 34 qualifying quarterbacks in the first three quarters of games this season. In fourth quarters and overtimes, Bradford ranks 15th in passer rating (88.9) and third in QBR (80.9). Only Jay Cutler (91.3) and Peyton Manning (90.1) have higher QBR scores for fourth quarters and overtimes this season.
Last season, Arizona's John Skelton had a 54.8 rating and 18.8 QBR score for the first three quarters of games. He had a 92.5 rating and 66.1 QBR score in fourth quarters and overtimes. The Cardinals lauded him for "clutch" play and named him their starter heading into this season. Turns out the first three quarters told us more about his career trajectory than what looked to some like an improbable ability to suddenly play well when it mattered.
Bradford is better than Skelton, of course. But there will come a time when the Rams need him to play at a high level throughout games. For now, they should be happy with their 6-6-1 record and No. 10 seeding in the NFC playoff race. They are one game in the loss column behind the teams seeded fourth through sixth. That marks tremendous progress from the recent past.
Update: Second and third quarters appear to be the primary issue for St. Louis offensively. Bradford's QBR scores by quarter are 64.4 (first), 19.2 (second), 25.7 (third) and 80.9 thereafter.