BY JIM THOMAS
OK, reality check. Start with the understanding that Baltimore played its entire second-team defense to open Thursday's preseason finale. Throw in the fact that the Ravens who were on the field didn't seem overly interested in playing football - at least not at first.
Nonetheless, the numbers and the performance by quarterback Sam Bradford speak for themselves. Bradford completed six of six passes on the Rams' opening drive for 68 yards. Once again, he made quick decisions and spread the ball around. Throw in a run here and there, and you had a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in what became a 27-21 Rams victory.
"I felt great out there tonight," Bradford said. "I felt like we really got in rhythm early as an offense. ... We converted on a couple of third downs, which is always nice. It was really a great first drive."
Bradford started again in place of the injured A.J. Feeley (thumb), and his numbers in those two starts: 21 completions in 28 attempts (that's 75 percent), for 257 yards, three touchdowns and a sterling passer rating of 138.5.
To be sure, there will be bumps and bruises along the way. There's no way Bradford makes it look this easy once the real games begin. But is there any logical reason why he shouldn't be the opening starter Sept. 12 against Arizona?
"That's not up to me. That's not my call," Bradford said. "Whether or not I think I am, that's not up to me. It's up to our coaches, and I trust what they believe. If they think I'm the guy, then I am. If not, it means I've got to work that much harder and get that much better before I am."
So, Steve Spagnuolo, your thoughts on your opening-day starting QB?
"So," Spagnuolo said, teasing. "We'll have the day off tomorrow. We'll get treated, and we'll go on from there."
After a breakout performance last week against New England, the Rams' head coach said he wanted to see Bradford put together back-to-back good outings before making any quarterback determination. Bradford seemingly answered that question.
If possible, Bradford was even better than his stats Thursday at the Edward Jones Dome. Take his 9-yard completion to tight end Billy Bajema on the fourth play of the game. On the first-down play, the Ravens brought a safety on the blitz, and then rolled a cornerback into the spot vacated by the safety.
It's a strategy designed to fool the quarterback, especially a rookie quarterback. But Bradford wasn't fooled; he got the ball out quickly before the corner could get there.
"They did bring a couple blitzes while I was in there," Bradford said. "But it's something that we were prepared for. Billy did a great job knowing that the safety was coming and turning his head and I was able to find him and get rid of the ball."
Two plays later, give an assist to Danny Amendola on Bradford's longest completion of the drive, a 36-yard gain on a little stop-and-go move by the wide receiver known as "White Chocolate" by his teammates. Amendola turned to his right, or inside, only to discover the ball was thrown to the outside. Not a problem. Amendola made a quick adjustment turning back to the outside and getting his feet in bounds as he caught the ball.
"He definitely helped me out," Bradford said. "That was a great catch by Danny. He did a great job adjusting to the ball; I left it outside a little bit. But fortunately, I put enough air on it to where he was able to make an adjustment on it and make a great play."
The completion gave the Rams a first down on the Baltimore 14 and four plays later, Bradford completed a 2-yard TD pass to Billy Bajema. Interestingly, the Rams came out in the no-huddle, something Bradford did frequently at Oklahoma.
That was it for Bradford, and the rest of the starting offense. One series, one touchdown. The Rams scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the third week in a row.
Bradford's replacement, Keith Null, started out red-hot as well. Fighting for the No. 3 quarterback job, Null also completed his first six passes, including a 3-yard TD to a leaping Brandon Gibson, another player competing for a roster spot.
But pass No. 7 by Null led to seven points for Baltimore. The pass deflected off Gibson and was returned 57 yards by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe for a TD. Ellerbe taunted the Rams by waiting just outside the goal line, and then hopping across into the end zone once defenders drew near, but there was no penalty flag.
Ellerbe's "pick six" occurred early in the second quarter and cut the Rams' lead to 14-7. With Null still at quarterback, the Rams tacked on a Josh Brown field goal - he went nine for nine this preseason - to stretch the lead to 17-7.
Baltimore got as close as a three-point deficit once, and trailed by six on two occasions, but ended the game with quarterback Troy Smith throwing an incomplete "Hail Mary" pass into the end zone as time expired.