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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
NFC West Week 11 decisive moment

By Mike Sando

NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Sam Bradford proved a week earlier he could lead the St. Louis Rams to the tying field goal in the final minutes.

The rookie quarterback was leading another potential fourth-quarter rally in Week 11 when the Rams called a seemingly safe play for third-and-goal from the Atlanta Falcons' 2-yard line. More than three minutes remained in a game the Rams trailed 26-17. A touchdown would have made the Falcons work to close out the game.

Instead, everything that could go wrong for the Rams did go wrong. The Falcons picked off the pass, added a late touchdown and coasted to a 34-17 victory.

"I thought it was a good call," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo told reporters Monday. "I’m standing there saying, 'We’ve got a touchdown here.'"

Bradford hadn't thrown an interception in an NFL rookie-record 169 pass attempts. His passer rating on third down ranked among the best in the league. The Falcons later admitted they had no idea a shovel pass was coming. The Rams never could have anticipated the Falcons intercepting such a quick pass.

"The play was developing," Spagnuolo said. "Just the way Sam got it all set, I thought we had the right guy getting the ball, people were going to concentrate on Steven [Jackson] and the whole thing."

The play began to go awry when Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux beat Rams guard Adam Goldberg off the ball. The unexpected disruption prevented tight end Mike Hoomanawanui from releasing as a receiver out of the backfield. Hoomanawanui, a rookie, also might have tipped off his route a little early. The man assigned to cover him, Falcons safety William Moore, ran to the spot where Hoomanawanui had intended to run.

Bradford delivered the ball on schedule.

"They penetrated a little bit, knocked Mike off the ball," Spagnuolo said. "I don’t know that I’ve seen that happen. It’s usually incomplete, or even if it’s a tackle you kick the field goal, but it’s unfortunate the way that happened."