Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters (91) pressures St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (8) during the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) By Tom Gannam
St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (8) scrambles with the football during the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010, in St. Louis between the Rams and the Atlanta Falcons. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) By Tom Gannam
St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford looks to throw against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) By Paul Sakuma
St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford sits on the bench in the final seconds of his team's 35-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) By Tom Gannam
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Every week, Sam Bradford looks less and less like a rookie. And no, it's not the scraggly beard he's been growing the last month in a show of team solidarity.
More games like last week and the St. Louis Rams' No. 1 pick could go down as one of the top rookie quarterbacks in NFL history. He's on pace to eclipse Peyton Manning in completions and attempts, and could end up second in passing yards and touchdowns.
"He's on pace to do great things," said Danny Amendola, the Rams' leading receiver. "He doesn't show any sign of hesitation, and like I always say, he has all the leadership qualities, so we've really got his back."
Bradford played a major role in a road slump-busting victory at Denver last week, throwing three touchdown passes, topping 300 yards for the first time and leading an offense to a season-best 431 yards. The Rams scored on five consecutive first-half possessions and their 36-point total was the franchise's best since 2007, helping them move into a tie for first place in the NFC West for the second time this season.
Bradford has 17 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, better than Manning (16 TD, 22 interceptions) and Troy Aikman (9, 18) during their rookie years after 11 games.
The Rams (5-6) are at Arizona this week. The slumping Cardinals (3-8) certainly don't expect to see the green kid who threw three interceptions in Arizona's 17-14 season-opening win.
"I'll tell you what, that guy's a player," safety Adrian Wilson said. "The ball is coming out on time and he's not waiting on the routes to develop."
Bradford has been intercepted only six times since then. He already owns one NFL rookie record, going 169 consecutive passes without a pick and in the last six games has 11 touchdown passes with only one pick.
At Denver, where the Rams ended a seven-game road skid and won for only the second time in 18 road games overall, he completed passes rolling out in either direction, zipped the ball off his back foot and confidently winged it into tight spaces.
Just what the Rams saw when they were preparing for the draft.
"The first thing that stuck out was how accurate he was. The second thing was he could throw the ball on the move," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "It's kind of nice that the people that have to defend him realize he can throw the ball going either way."
Opponents know, too, that stopping Steven Jackson won't necessarily be enough anymore. Jackson remains the key to the offense, even if he was held to 72 yards rushing and a 2.5-yard average last weekend. The Broncos crowded the line, daring the rookie to beat them.
Bradford was up to the task.
"They were protecting the edge and then throwing back across the field sometimes, trying to give Bradford time," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "I thought he really played well, did a nice job of moving out of the pocket and trying to find some guys down the field."
It doesn't appear that success has gone to Bradford's head. He's not worried about where he'll stand in the NFL annals, and not overly impressed with his career day.
"I mean, it's nice," Bradford said. "What makes it nicer is the fact that we won. If we would have lost that game, then everything that I did would have been for nothing and it wouldn't have been enough.
Now he'll try to do it again. The Rams have topped 20 points only one other game in Week 3 against the Redskins and their average gain per pass of 5.97 yards is next to last in the league.
They've got the road onus off their back, which should help. Nothing to do with the numbers, Bradford expects more.
"The bottom line is I'm here to help this team win," Bradford said. "If we're not winning then I'm not going my job."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)