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Sunday, December 5, 2010
Grit, resolve and another Rams road victory

By Mike Sando

Sam Bradford
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford toughed out an ugly win against Arizona.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Sam Bradford rolled to his right, found no one open and decided to make a run for it.

Risky move.

Bradford, the St. Louis Rams' record-setting rookie passer, found himself facing the Arizona Cardinals' Adrian Wilson.

It's been a tough season for Wilson and the Cardinals -- the Rams made it tougher with a 19-6 victory Sunday -- but Wilson can still crack heads with the best of them. The Pro Bowl safety wasn't going to miss the opportunity. He hit Bradford hard and shook him.

Bradford wavered a little on his way back to the huddle.

What happened next revealed more about Bradford than anything found within his worst statistical line since Week 5 (18-of-29 for 187 yards, one pick and a 66.3 rating).

Facing third-and-10, the quarterback stared down Wilson again, this time from the pocket, and he absorbed more punishment -- all while delivering a perfect sideline strike to Laurent Robinson for a 10-yard gain. No wonder Bradford tired of all the questions about his durability coming out of college.

"If you're a competitor and you take a shot or you get hit in the mouth, you're not going to turn it down," Bradford said. "You're going to get back up and try to give them your best shot on the next play. That's what I try to do."

That's what the Rams did Sunday throughout their second consecutive road victory. They weren't pretty. They won ugly. And they were tough.

The Cardinals' Alan Branch drew a penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Bradford late in the game. Bradford's next pass found tight end Billy Bajema for a 26-yard gain.

"[Bradford] is very tough and resilient and strong-minded," Bajema said.

Bradford wasn't alone that way. Cornerback Ron Bartell (shoulder), right tackle Jason Smith (ankle) and Bajema (knee) returned to the game after suffering injuries that left them in obvious pain. Steven Jackson, still playing with pins in his left hand following surgery weeks ago, pounded out 102 yards on the ground despite taking a physical beating for the second week in a row. Arizona played tough on defense.

"This was our most physical game of the year," Rams guard Jacob Bell said.

What did the Rams show?

"Some resolve," coach Steve Spagnuolo said.

What else did we learn Sunday? Let's run through the list:

1. The division race could hinge on Week 17

The Rams improved to 6-6 and remained atop the NFC West, tied with Seattle but owning the tiebreaker thanks to a Week 4 victory over the Seahawks. The teams play again in Week 17 and it's looking like the division race could hinge on the outcome.

The San Francisco 49ers fell to 4-8 at Green Bay. The Cardinals are effectively finished at 3-9 following their seventh consecutive defeat.

"To win a division, you have to be able to win road games," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "We're going to have our share of road games coming up. I think we've been resilient and that is a good thing, in that we have lost some tough ones on the road and come back and we haven't let it become a mental distraction."

2. Arizona's QB situation went from bad to worse

Last week, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said the team had no plans to get regular-season reps for third-string rookie quarterback John Skelton.

Now?

Skelton might be the only Cardinals quarterback healthy enough to play.

Whisenhunt did not name a starter for Week 14 against Denver. He said he sensed something wasn't right with Derek Anderson after the Rams roughed up the veteran starter in the first half. Whisenhunt replaced Anderson with Max Hall in the third quarter.

Hall finished with one fumble, one interception, one dislocated shoulder (his left) and a 4.2 passer rating in five snaps.

Skelton finished the game. Unlike Hall, Skelton showed a strong arm in completing 3 of 6 passes for 45 yards, including a 22-yarder to Steve Breaston on third-and-16. Not that it's ever a good sign when the third-stringer is mopping up.

"I'm pretty sure when he was driving to the stadium today he had no clue that he would be playing in the role that he did," Cardinals running back Tim Hightower said.

3. The Rams' make no apologies for winning on the road

The sorry state of the Cardinals, particularly at quarterback, slaps a disclaimer on any sweeping proclamations about the Rams' performance Sunday.

The Rams owe no apologies to anyone, however. They had lost eight in a row to the Cardinals, a streak dating to 2006, and they hadn't won road games in back-to-back weeks since defeating New Orleans and San Francisco midway through the 2007 season.

"We showed some resolve and some grit when you think about them having beaten us the, what, last three years," Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said. "To come here on the road, where we have struggled until last week, and play a game good enough to win, we're just showing our growth more than anything, getting better each week."

4. The Cardinals' defense showed up.

The Cardinals' unveiled some scheme changes that gave the Rams some problems.

"We like to run the ball in the middle, so they blitzed the middle, they ran some twists early on first down in the middle, stuff that we haven't really seen -- stuff that we were prepared for, but they executed pretty good today," Bell said.

Count Wilson, defensive end Darnell Dockett and safety Kerry Rhodes among the Arizona defensive players showing some fight after an embarrassing performance against San Francisco on Monday night.

Dockett blew up a Rams running play near the goal line, nearly hitting Bradford before the quarterback could get out from under center.

"For our guys to play with the type of effort that they did today and make some of the plays that they did, shows that you got a lot of the right guys," Whisenhunt said.

I didn't see much from outside linebacker Joey Porter or cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, to name a couple players with Pro Bowls on their résumé.

The only time Porter stood out, at least from what I saw, was when he yapped away at Smith, the Rams' tackle. Porter finished with two tackles, his lowest total since Week 1.

Rodgers-Cromartie, beaten for a touchdown last week, committed a penalty to negate a long gain when Arizona used him as a wide receiver early in the game.

5. The Cardinals have become the 2009 Rams.

The Rams were the team fumbling through quarterbacks last season. Third-stringer Keith Null made four starts.

St. Louis reacted during the offseason by turning over its roster at the position.

The Cardinals could bring back Hall and Skelton to compete for a backup job, but they need to draft a quarterback and find veteran spot starter with some accuracy. Marc Bulger comes to mind as one potential option, provided the former Rams starter has used this season in Baltimore to get healthy and get his mind right.

At least there's no way the Cardinals can convince themselves they're OK at the position. Their experience this season demands change.

"Sometimes you take it for granted, how great it is to have a guy like Sam who kind of solidifies the position for years to come and also in the immediate future you know what you've got back there -- a guy who can put you in position to win every game," Long said. "It's really a blessing and it makes football feel a lot different when you have that steady force back there and it's not inconsistent or unpredictable."