CLEVELAND -- Walking into the St. Louis Rams locker room on Oct. 20, 2013, had the unmistakable feeling of walking into a wake. That was the day Rams quarterback Sam Bradford tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The Rams' playoff hopes, for whatever they still were at that point in the season, died that day.
Walking into the Rams' locker room Saturday night at FirstEnergy Stadium had the unmistakable feeling of something different: optimism. Although Bradford still has a battery of tests to go through when the team returns to St. Louis, early returns seem to be favorable for a relatively quick Bradford recovery.
After the game and some goading, Rams coach Jeff Fisher indicated that the injury could be little more than a hyperextension. He added that Bradford was walking around fine and in good spirits in the locker room.
"We’ll go back and do tests tomorrow and we’re optimistic for his quick return," Fisher said.
That's a major departure from that 2013 Week 7 game against Carolina, when the Rams not only lost the game, but also their quarterback. That day, Bradford writhed in pain for about 10 minutes before the cart arrived to take him to the locker room. In that postgame news conference, Fisher didn't offer anything remotely resembling an optimistic outlook, let alone a possible diagnosis. In fact, Fisher made it a point to say he didn't want to deal in hypotheticals and mentioned Bradford was in "significant" pain on the sideline.
Upon entering that locker room after Carolina, pins could be heard dropping as the Rams slowly trudged to the bus to head to the airport.
The scene in Cleveland on Saturday was far different. By no means was the mood jubilant, but it was one that was certainly more upbeat than one would expect considering the injuries to Bradford and fellow starters Kendall Langford, Trumaine Johnson, Michael Brockers and Rodger Saffold. Johnson's injury appeared the most serious, as he was the only one to leave on a cart, but Fisher even expressed a dose of optimism on that.
Bradford was unavailable to the media after the game. But wide receiver Brian Quick, perhaps the player with the most to lose to a possible Bradford injury, did speak to his quarterback.
"I was a little nervous about it but everything is all right," Quick said. "Sam told me that he is OK."
Although backup Shaun Hill represents a solid veteran option, the Rams are like every other team in the league in that they can't afford to lose their starter. Before he was hurt Saturday, Bradford was off to another strong start in his second preseason appearance.
Despite shoddy pass protection, Bradford was 4-of-9 for 77 yards and had showed a continued willingness to press the ball down the field and into tight windows.
Also, unlike that Carolina game, without Bradford and the other four starters, the Rams went on to an impressive (at least by preseason standards) 33-14 victory.
"We'll wait until tomorrow and see what happens," end Chris Long said. "We did a lot of positive things for our third preseason game and there were a lot of bumps and bruises but we'll see tomorrow. We'll just take in the victory and look at the positives because there were a lot of positives."
But there would be no bigger positive than a clean bill of health for the starting quarterback.