The St. Louis Rams offense ran out of gas and the defense couldn't hold the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quite long enough in last Sunday's disappointing 18-17 road loss, and Sam Bradford's accuracy will be a major key to Sunday's home game against the 1-5 Carolina Panthers.
Bradford has had an uneven but mostly satisfying rookie season, but between the reemergence of Steven Jackson and Bradford's 13-for-26 performance week seven was among the first times in which the Rams seemed unsure about their star quarterback—and only the second time this season he's thrown fewer than 31 pass attempts. Rookie wide receiver Danario Alexander, pegged as a fantasy sleeper and potential force in the Rams' sparse receiving corps after his strong debut, was targeted only twice in his second game on the active roster.
Of course, the Panthers' rookie quarterback has had a rougher NFL debut. Clausen became the starter by default after Matt Moore received a concussion against the New York Giants in week one and then played like he had one. Over the next four weeks Clausen struggled, finally hitting the wall in the Panthers' October 10 loss to the Chicago Bears, where he was 9-for-22 for just 61 passing yards and one interception, a passer rating of 29.7 and 2.77 yards per attempt.
He was benched for week six, and Moore responded by having the game of his life, completing 28 passes in 41 attempts for 308 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers' first win of the season. A solid performer as Jake Delhomme's backup and just three years older than Jimmy Clausen, now is Moore's last and best chance to establish himself as the Panthers' long-term starting quarterback.
Elsewhere in Panthers-land, wide receiver Steve Smith, bothered by an ankle-sprain, began returning punts again in an attempt to jumpstart his flagging season. With 224 yards on just 17 catches he looks far removed from his outstanding 2008 season—but so are the quarterbacks throwing to him. Running back DeAngelo Williams, erstwhile member of the controversial Smash and Dash tandem, has missed practice twice this week with a sprained foot.