St. Louis Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens, left, runs past Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) By Seth Perlman
St. Louis Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens, left, is hit as he throws by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) By Seth Perlman
St. Louis Rams wide receiver Brandon Lloyd sits on the bench during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011, in St. Louis. The Bengals won 20-13. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) By Seth Perlman
Cincinnati Bengals running back Bernard Scott celebrates after scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) By Seth Perlman
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Another short week makes it more likely St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford will be out again. At least now there's a bit of a backup plan.
While familiarizing himself with the roster, Kellen Clemens exceeded expectations in Sunday's 20-13 loss to Cincinnati. Scoring in double-digits qualifies as a successful day for the NFL's worst offense, even when Bradford's under center.
Plus, Bradford has been playing hurt for a while now, admittedly not near his best and potentially at risk for further injury.
Clemens definitely did not appear lost. He called audibles, and threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Danario Alexander with 1:08 to play that made it a one-score game while running the two-minute offense after one short practice stint.
There was less rust than might have been expected considering it was his first start in two seasons and only the 10th of a six-year career for the 28-year-old Clemens, who was 25 for 36 for 229 yards.
"Extremely proud of Kellen, I'm really glad we have him," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "There wasn't anything that we limited."
Bradford wore a walking boot on the sideline, not a good sign for Week 15 at Pittsburgh on Saturday. Backup A.J. Feeley remains out with a fractured thumb he could barely flex a few days before the Bengals loss and the Rams (2-12) signaled his status in this week's practice release, with media availabilities for Bradford and Clemens.
Though it was 6-3, the Rams' halftime lead was only their fifth of the year. They've been outscored 167-88 the first two quarters.
Clemens didn't seem too pleased with himself and noted that "it's pass or fail in this business."
"When you're on the wrong end of it like we were, it's not good enough," Clemens said. "There are a lot of areas where we can improve."
Players had the day off Monday and Spagnuolo canceled his normal news conference to dive into preparation.
Spagnuolo was satisfied with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' play calling, if not the ultimate results that spoiled another good day for a defense that has little margin for error. The Rams finally got rolling in the fourth quarter, producing 140 of their 305 yards, which topped the Bengals' total of 283.
Penalties cut into that slight advantage, raising the degree of difficulty on third down and shortening the field for the Bengals' offense. The Rams were whistled 10 times for 109 yards by an officiating crew that appeared all-too willing to drop flags, one that coaches had warned players about a day earlier. The Bengals, 8-6 and in the playoff picture, were better equipped to overcome 11 penalties for 101 yards.
With the Rams down 13-6, tackle Harvey Dahl was penalized for holding and then got an unsportsmanlike conduct call for a profane complaint while referee Jerome Boger's microphone was live, resulting in first-and-30 from the St. Louis 11 early in the fourth quarter and then a punt. Two unnecessary roughness calls in a span of three plays on linebacker Chris Chamberlain, perhaps angered after getting poked in the eye, took the Bengals to the 4 on the ensuing series, where Cedric Benson ran it in for a 20-6 lead.
James Butler kept shoving after Brandon Tate was out of bounds on a 56-yard punt return, putting Cincinnati at the 12 to set up Bernard Scott's go-ahead TD in the third.
"I'm being careful not to pass judgment," Spagnuolo said, then added, "I did ask the referee to please try to call it both ways.
"That's all you can really ask of any officiating crew, to just be consistent. Now I'm not saying whether it was or wasn't, I'm just saying that's all I asked."
Spagnuolo wasn't sure if Dahl would have gotten the extra penalty for "disrespecting an official" if the entire stadium hadn't heard.
"You'd have to ask the referee," Spagnuolo said. "But I know this, and Harvey and I talked about it, it does no good anyway to voice your opinion to the official after the call has been made."
As in past weeks, there was no finger pointing after the game. Defensive end Chris Long, whose 13th sack equaled Hall of Fame father Howie Long's top career season total, factors in personnel attrition that has added to offensive woes that have existed all year. In addition to Bradford's injury, three starting linemen are on injured reserve.
The secondary has been hard-hit, with the top three cornerbacks on injured reserve, but the front seven is intact. Long noted the Bengals' go-ahead and insurance touchdowns came on consecutive possessions.
"When you look around the look, you see teams winning games on defense," Long said. "So we say, 'Why can't we be that defense?'"