If the St. Louis Rams are going to finish the season at .500, this is the way to do it, I think—swinging wildly between season-ending disaster and soul-brightening triumph. This week we got the triumph; these Rams were tenacious on offense and defense; had exciting performances by an injury-prone rookie, Danario Alexander, and an injury-prone vet, Steven Jackson; and had just enough Sam Bradford to allow him to satisfy as an NFL quarterback today, and not an NFL quarterback of the future.
If we're getting the soul-crushing again next week, I'd at least like to suck all the marrow out of this win. So let's say five things about it.
5. They relied on Steven Jackson, who kind of delivered.
Jackson's still invisible in the receiving game, but the Rams have gone to him like they used to over the last two games, giving him 54 carries for 225 yards. On a per-carry basis he's not at his best, but between the groin problems, the back problems, and the knee problems the important thing, in this post-Mark-Clayton world, was that the Rams could count on him to carry a huge load when they had nothing else on which to rely.
4. Sam Bradford was coolly efficient.
Bradford's performance has always been, at worst, rationalizable, and if he'd struggled this week we'd have had his number-one receiver going down on which to place the blame. But instead Bradford had one of his best performances of the year, spreading the wealth to seemingly every receiver left on the roster, making few mistakes, and generally not behaving like a rookie quarterback.
He recovered from his worst start of the season to put together one in which he did everything that was asked of him. And he didn't throw an interception for the first time all season. And I'm happy about that.
3. The Rams didn't blow their lead.
This was the kind of game the Rams could easily have lost—they ran up a nice but surmountable lead against one of the top offensive teams in football, and then couldn't put a touchdown drive together in the second half. The Chargers weren't terrible at all; even with the Rams' constant pressure Rivers completed nearly 60 percent of his passes.
But they held it together, Josh Brown kicked a crucial 48-yarder, and the end result was a game that was not quite as close as it seemed. But still close enough to have blown it.
2. The defense held back one of the finest offensive teams in the NFL.
The San Diego Chargers have held up in the wake of LaDainian Tomlinson's decline and departure much better than your fantasy team did. Phillip Rivers has become perhaps the only quarterback in the league who wouldn't be blamed for running Drew Brees out of town, Antonio Gates was aging like a fine non-football player until the Rams took him out... things were going pretty well for the number two offense in football.
But Chris Long took the opportunity to add two sacks to his year-to-date total of 0.5—two of seven sacks on the day—and Phillip Rivers had to settle for being just Pro Bowl-caliber.
Okay, I don't actually know that guy—the Missouri school of journalism and the Missouri football team didn't hang out together quite as much as you'd imagine, if you imagined them ever hanging out. But I remember him, inasmuch as I recall the Rams' pursuit of him as the hobbled, undrafted high-upside pick-up of the offseason.
For five weeks, then, we were treated to little news-bites about him on the practice squad—Danario Alexander has a bad knee; Danario Alexander has a great knee; Danario Alexander really has a problem with the rest of his leg. But it turns out there's a point at which practice squad news-bites are subsumed by the need for the Rams to field more than one wide receiver at a given moment.
And then he didn't just appear in the game, he caught a crucial touchdown pass. Danario Alexander! Giving St. Louis Rams fans yet another wide receiver to pin their hopes upon in the post-Torry Holt era.