FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)—Sam Bradford hasn’t had many chances to enjoy football since winning the 2008 Heisman Trophy.
That changed in his first pro start Thursday night.
The top pick in this year’s draft played with the poise of a veteran, completing 15 of 22 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. That first-half performance launched the St. Louis Rams to a 36-35 exhibition win over theNew England Patriots.
“Tonight was really the first time that I had fun,” said Bradford, who missed 10 of 13 games at Oklahoma last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. “I felt like I was doing what I am used to doing, which is moving the offense up and down the field and scoring points.
“Anytime you can do that, it’s a blast.”
In Thursday night’s other game, Green Bay beat Indianapolis 59-24.
Bradford had plenty of help from a Patriots defense that couldn’t stop any of the Rams’ three quarterbacks.
St. Louis (2-1) led in time of possession, 43:46 to 16:14, and in offensive yards, 462-288. The Patriots gained more than 10 yards on just four of 11 series while the Rams went nine for 11. And only one of the Patriots possessions lasted more than five plays; the Rams had nine.
Bradford “made some good throws,” Patriots cornerback Leigh Boddensaid, “but we didn’t make a lot of plays to make him look bad.”
He was on the sideline to see rookie free agent Thaddeus Lewis throw a 20-yard scoring pass to Brandon Gibson on the first series of the third quarter and then watch quarterback Keith Null guide a 41-yard drive toJosh Brown’s winning 37-yard field goal on the final play.
But will Bradford be back under center for the Rams’ first snap Sept. 12 against the Arizona Cardinals?
“We’ve got to look at the film,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I want to see how he handled things when there was pressure.”
He seemed to do just fine. Bradford completed his first six passes, rarely got flustered and quickly located open receivers.
“He was putting the ball on the money,” Rams running back Steven Jacksonsaid. “You can tell he really knows the offense. I’m really impressed with how far he’s come in a short time.”
When training camp began, Spagnuolo gave the starting job toA.J. Feeley, but he was sidelined with a sprained right thumb and Bradford got his chance after struggling for two games as a backup.
Other than Tom Brady, who completed 18 of 22 passes for 273 yards, and rookie tight endRob Gronkowski, who caught two of Brady’s three touchdown passes, there was very little impressive about the Patriots (2-1).
“We just couldn’t stay on the field offensively and, defensively, they just couldn’t get off the field,” Brady said.
The Patriots didn’t get a first down until 3:10 remained in the first half and finished with 12. The Rams had 30.
“They were able to move the ball at will,” safety James Sanders said. “It was demoralizing.”
New Rams owner Stan Kroenke had a much different feeling. One day after the NFL approved him as owner, he went into his team’s locker room before the game.
“That was terrific,” Spagnuolo said. “He stayed for the entire game— late into the night.”
The Patriots turned a 27-14 deficit into a 35-27 lead on Brady’s touchdown passes of 65 yards toRandy Moss and 20 yards to Gronkowski and Brian Hoyer’s 5-yarder to Sam Aiken with 11:14 left after an interception by Brandon McGowan.
Keith Toston scored on a 2-yard run, but an incomplete pass for a conversion left the Rams behind 35-33.
Bradford had led scoring drives on three of his first four series.
He went 4 for 4 for 48 yards and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Michael Hoomanawanui on his first. On his third, Bradford was 3 for 4 for 48 yards, setting up a 25-yard field goal by Brown. And on his fourth, he hooked up with Hoomanawanui again for a 12-yard score and a 17-7 lead. Brown added a 45-yard field goal after Gronkowski’s 14-yard touchdown catch, putting St. Louis ahead 20-14 at halftime.
The highlight of the game for the Patriots came on the first play when Brandon Tate returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
Then Bradford took the field.
“You never like to see a kickoff return against you but, at the same time, that meant I didn’t have to sit around and wait on the bench and that means I was able to get on the field even sooner, which I like,” he said.