Monday, December 10, 2012
Inside the Rams' winning 84-yard TD drive
By Mike Sando
ESPN estimated the St. Louis Rams' win probability at 22.3 percent when Sam Bradford and the offense took possession at their own 16-yard line with 4:55 remaining in Week 14.
The Rams trailed, 12-7, and their offense hadn't done much all game.
When the 14-play, 84-yard touchdown drive ended, the Rams led 15-12 with 54 seconds on the clock. Their win probability stood at 91.2 percent. And win they did, evening their record at 6-6-1 with their first three-game winning streak since 2006.
As if attempting to enhance the drama, Bradford improbably completed none of his four first-down attempts during the winning drive. He completed 5 of 7 attempts for 68 yards and the winning touchdown on second, third and fourth downs. That included a 22-yard connection with tight end Lance Kendricks on second-and-10, a 9-yarder to receiver Austin Pettis on fourth-and-1 and a 15-yarder to Brandon Gibson on third-and-10. Then came the winning 13-yard pass to Gibson and a two-point conversion pass to rookie Chris Givens.
A few things I noticed in watching the drive again Monday:
- Run game there when needed: Steven Jackson had 9- and 7-yard carries early in the drive. Plenty of time remained at that point, but the Bills had to play pass, particularly when St. Louis lined up with three-receiver personnel on a second-and-10 play from its own 16. Jackson used a block from guard Harvey Dahl, among others, to gash the Bills for the 9-yard gain on this play. This play capitalized on the Bills' strong upfield surge.
- Kendricks at fullback: Kendricks plays tight end most of the time, but he lined up a fullback in the I-formation on Jackson's third-and-1 carry for 7 yards. The Bills had eight in the box, but the Rams had eight blockers available. Kendricks' strength as a blocker was key. He blasted Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman on the edge, giving Jackson all the room he needed. Kendricks is quickly emerging as a very good all-around tight end.
- Strong hands: Kendricks and Pettis made difficult catches. We focus lots on quarterbacks, and rightly so, but even the best ones need their receivers to make them look good sometimes. That hasn't happened frequently enough for Bradford over his career. It happened on the final drive. Bradford throws the ball with good velocity. Conditions were wet in Buffalo. Kendricks put his body at risk over the middle when snaring Bradford's pass away from his body 20 yards downfield as the Rams moved into Bills territory. Pettis either ran the wrong route or Bradford flat-out missed him on the fourth-and-1 play. Whatever happened, Pettis made an extremely difficult catch. The pass was behind Pettis, who was falling away from the ball and had to reach back for it.
- A little luck helps, too: The Bills nearly picked off a short pass from Bradford to Givens. Former Rams coach Mike Martz, working the game for CBS, thought the Rams telegraphed the play as a quick pass by having Bradford under center and Jackson directly behind him. Safety George Wilson could not make the catch. Wilson could not handle another potential interception later in the drive.
- Fantastic poise: Bradford waited and waited as the pocket closed around him before throwing for Gibson along the left sideline on that third-and-10 play with 58 seconds to play. That play marked the only time during the drive Buffalo sent more than four pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. One of them dropped back after rushing initially. Bradford made the Bills pay for having fewer in coverage.
- Going for two: The Rams have now converted four times on five tries at two-point conversions. Gibson set a pick for Givens on this one.
This was the Rams' sixth touchdown drive of the season spanning more than 80 yards. That ranks tied for 10th in the NFL. New England (14) and Seattle (10) have the most. San Francisco has eight and Arizona has three.