Sam Bradford and the St Louis Rams are growing up before our eyes. Once again they found themselves entering the halftime break, trailing on the road despite a strong defensive effort, trying to dig themselves out of a hole of their own making on offense. Once again, the Rams made adjustments to their gameplan, and got big plays from someone other than Danny Amendola to secure a win.
Subtract the interception heroics of Janoris Jenkins in Week 12, and the story of the Rams win over the Buffalo Bills is a lot like the story of their win over the Arizona Cardinals two weeks earlier. Those two games sandwich a five-quarter gut-check win at home over the San Francisco 49ers, for a three game winning streak.
That this is the longest such streak in six years isn't much of a surprise for anyone who watched much of the last five years of football. But the character of these three wins belongs firmly to Jeff Fisher. He has coaxed suffocating performances by the defensive front seven, opportunistic ball by the secondary, and an clutch performances by the offense in the late going, and has brought this team back to playing meaningful games in December.
A tale of two halves (Again)
The splits between the first half and the second are stunning. All credit to Buffalo's revitalized defensive front, which has been playing lights-out over the last month of football, but our offense could do nothing. However, the offensive line fixed its protection issues, and a few deep shots (and a passel of clear-out routes to follow) opened up room underneath for the pass and the run.
Consider these stats:
Total Rams Net Yards: First half - 71. Second half - 214.
Total Bills Net Yards: First half - 174. Second half - 104.
Rams Time of Possession: First half - 11:30. Second half - 17:54.
Danny Amendola was an unexpected scratch after returning to practice this week, foretelling a day of offensive struggle. Naturally, Sam turned early to his new favorite target Chris Givens and to old standby Steven Jackson, but the Bills were well prepared for that on defense. Sam was only able to complete one of six passes thrown to those two players in the first half.
That meant turning elsewhere, and relying on players that have had Rams fans reaching for pitchforks at various times earlier in the year. Today, though, the ne'er-do-wells actually did well, none more so than our favorite whipping boy, Brandon Gibson.
Gibson had a career day with 100 receiving yards on six catches, including clutch grabs for 15 and 13 yards and a touchdown on the Rams' final drive. But Gibson doesn't get into the end zone unless fellow doghouse residents Austin Pettis and Lance Kendricks make up for an earlier drop with highlight-reel catches of their own. Kendricks with a one-hander up the seam, and Pettis with a pirouetting behind-the-back snag on fourth down.
That's the way the game went in the second half, and the way this winning streak has been built - players picking each other up and doing their part when their number was called. Even Gibson, who hadn't been targeted in nearly six quarters of football prior to today, played a part in Lance Kendricks' must-have two-point conversion against the Niners last week.
Credit where credit is due: in the trenches
Winning a game on the road is difficult enough. Winning on the road, facing a cantakerous referee crew that had previously flagged your team 13 times in your last meeting, playing without your best receiver on offense, outdoors in a slushy mix of rain and snow? That takes some gritty, gutty play by your linemen.
The kind of grit and guts showed by Rodger Saffold, for one, who came back twice from getting his knees rolled up on and stepped on to complete a second-half shutout of Mario Williams and the Bills' pass rush. Bradford was sacked only once, early on, and the pressure all but disappeared in the final 30 minutes.
On the defensive side, Michael Brockers made this a statement game, with 1.5 sacks to increase his rookie season total to four, doubling his LSU career total. As a draft pick, Brockers was all about projecting NFL coaching on an elite physical frame. Well, the coaching has set in, and that frame is starting to dominate inside.
Brockers' presence on interior rushes was a factor for Ryan Fitzpatrick all day, as he was often unable to step up to avoid pressure from the outside. The Rams got him for five sacks, a total not matched since the first five-quarter showdown with San Francisco.
We could continue to heap additional praise in the trenches - and we will as the week goes on and game film comes online - but for now, let's just enjoy the road win and the happy flight, and prepare for another test against a team on the fringe of the playoff hunt - the Minnesota Vikings.