ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Sam Bradford will finish the preseason as the St. Louis Rams' starting quarterback, at least partly because veteran A.J. Feeley might not be ready to play.
Bradford had a big game in his first start, going 15 of 22 for 189 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 36-35 victory at New England on Thursday night. The overall No. 1 draft pick from Oklahoma played the first half and completed his first six passes, earning another start on merit.
"Sam Bradford was leading the charge," running back Steven Jackson said.
Bradford showed off his arm with a couple of long passes, showed good mobility rolling out, and looked comfortable and in charge. It was a big step forward from the first two preseason games when he was 12 of 27 for only 81 yards and appeared a bit tentative.
"He was excellent," coach Steve Spagnuolo said Friday. "He said it best I think after the game when he said he felt in rhythm. Anytime your quarterback can get in rhythm, that's a good thing."
Spagnuolo said it's unlikely that Feeley, who has a sprained thumb on his throwing hand, will be ready in time for the preseason finale on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens. Feeley was named the starter before training camp, although it's long been anticipated that Bradford will soon be the Rams' No. 1 quarterback regardless of Feeley's health.
In six possessions, Bradford produced two touchdowns and two field goals, giving a team that went 1-15 last season a boost while getting its second win this preseason.
"A.J. probably won't make it to the Baltimore game anyway," Spagnuolo said. "That's not a definite, but it's going to look like a push, so certainly Sam will start."
Most teams hold most of their starters out of the final preseason game. The Rams (2-1) figure to be an exception and might give Jackson some playing time, too, to give Bradford another game with the team's top offensive threat.
Jackson played the first series Thursday and had 22 yards on five carries.
"He got some good quality time," Spagnuolo said. "I'll bet he'd be eager to get another drive or two, but we'll see where we're at."
Spagnuolo said he hadn't decided how long Bradford would play in the finale.
"We would like to see Sam put back-to-back games together and we'll make a decision shortly after that game which direction we're going to go with the quarterback," he said.
Spagnuolo wouldn't say what other signs he needed to see before anointing Bradford as the starter.
"I know you guys keep pushing for an answer," he told reporters. "I'm just not ready to make it. I'd love to see him do exactly what he did last night."
The Rams lost their top returning wide receiver perhaps for the season, adding to Bradford's challenge. Deep threat Donnie Avery, who led the team with 47 receptions last season, tore ligaments in his right knee late in the first half on the landing after an attempt at a leaping catch.
Avery fell and clutched his knee as the pass from Bradford dropped incomplete. He was carted off the field. Spagnuolo said Avery, who caught two passes for 48 yards in the game, would undergo surgery after swelling in the knee subsides.
"It looks like we'll lose him for the season, which is very unfortunate," Spagnuolo said. "He was having a terrific game. Donnie's a quality guy and a character guy and we'll miss him."
The Rams were already thin at wide receiver, and signed former Missouri star Danario Alexander last week.
Competition to be Jackson's backup intensified just a bit when Kenneth Darby, Chris Ogbonnaya and rookie Keith Toston all played well against the Patriots. Toston had 41 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown, Darby had 35 yards on 13 carries and Ogbonnaya had 25 yards on eight attempts.
Spagnuolo said Darby and Ogbonnaya were "neck and neck" and said Toston "did some things effectively" at the end of the game.
"I grew up competing," Darby said. "I can't control what I have no control over, the only thing I can control is my attitude."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)