Mostly I'm glad about what the top story from the St. Louis Rams' road game against the Denver Broncos isn't: Another fourth quarter collapse, another game in which the offense can't quite put away a team that keeps pecking and pecking at the defense. Don't get me wrong-that all happened, but thanks to some last-minute heroics from Chris Long and the sheer magnitude of the fourth-quarter lead the Rams managed to take this one home, ending the game in first place in the free-for-all NFC West.
5. Sam Bradford's career game
How good was Sam Bradford Sunday afternoon? Here's one way of putting it: Saturday, his yards/attempt was 5.7. Now it's 6.0. He took his sixth-most attempts of the season, and came away with a career-high 308 yards. All the concerns about his lack of daring—really the Rams' lack of daring—with the ball downfield are still valid, but for one week he was as effective in that respect as the best quarterbacks in football. Mike Sando has some interesting fun-with-selective-endpoints stats if you aren't yet sure just how good Bradford was.
If you haven't taken a look at his season totals recently, now's a good time. He's on pace, per ESPN, for 3,587 yards passing, 25 touchdowns, 13 interceptions. Those 601 attempts he's on pace for make the 3,600 passing yards a little less impressive, but if he can continue to work downfield things could get extremely interesting. Interestinger.
4. Michael Hoomanawanui's bum ankle
What is it with this team and tantalizing rookie receivers with recurring injury problems? Michael Hoomanawanui's touchdown reception Sunday was a thing of tight end beauty—that rarest kind of beauty that combines good hands, the word "rumbling" as a verb of motion, and a kind of awkward grace. It's a match made in heaven: Bradford has been targeting his tight ends constantly, as Billy Bajema is now aware, and Hoomanawanui seems ready to be targeted. He's got 13 receptions and three touchdowns in his seven games with the team.
But he can't stay healthy. Another MRI is coming on that ankle, and it looks like—the broadcasters' protestations to the contrary—it might be a recurrence of that high-ankle problem from earlier this season after all. Daniel Fells has proven surprisingly capable in Hoomanawanui's absence, but it would be exciting to see "Illinois Mike," as even those broadcasters are now calling him, get a chance to gel with fellow draftee Oklahoma Sam for more than a game—and a touchdown—at a time.
3. Steven Jackson's subpar game
The Denver Broncos, heretofore the worst run-defense in football, clearly had it out for Steven Jackson. He was so blanketed with defenders that Bradford had a receiver open over the middle seemingly every play. It's a credit to the Rams' suddenly efficient passing game that they were able to take advantage of it, even when Jackson was stuffed at the goal line twice in a row.
Turf Show Times thinks the run blocking—namely Adam Goldberg—is to blame, and notes how heads-up Jackson's pass-blocking was all game; Bradford had wide swaths of time to watch the play develop, and Jackson was a big part of that. But what was impressive about this game was that the Broncos couldn't have solved Steven Jackson any better than they did, and the Rams still hung 36 points on them. That's a sign of an offense that's figured things out. It's not something I would have possibly expected even the last time the Rams were in first place.
2. Danario Alexander's effect on the offense
Now Danario Alexander has played in three games. He has been the Rams' best wide receiver, and their obvious number one in two of them. It's clear now that so long as he remains a Ram (and mobile) we will spend every waking football-related moment in the thrall of his astoundingly fragile left knee. He almost singlehandedly turned Bradford and the Rams' passing game from a short-yardage accuracy attack to a vertical one.
Alexander can be a star, a downfield threat like no other receiver on the roster—not even the two guys on the IR. But it will be a very nerve-wracking, anxious kind of stardom indeed.
1. The Rams might really belong in first place
What I'll take from Week 12's first three quarters is that at their best the St. Louis Rams aren't just as good as the Seattle Seahawks, they're better. This will have been a fun season, a worthwhile season whether they end up escaping the NFC West or not, but it's exciting to learn that this playoff run isn't just a fun diversion—the NFC West is a terrible division, but the Rams have a legitimate claim for being the best in it.
So long as they don't let the Troy Smiths of the world—let alone the Kyle Ortons of the world—go off like that every week, round the fourth quarter.