NFC West Week 5 decisive moment

The St. Louis Rams were trailing the Detroit Lions by a field goal five minutes into their game Sunday when quarterback Sam Bradford threw deep for Mark Clayton along the left sideline.

The pass traveled 35 yards downfield, which was fitting. Bradford ranks third among NFL quarterbacks with eight completions covering at least 30 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Clayton ranks third among NFL receivers with four receptions at least that long.

Bradford and Clayton have made such connections appear somewhat routine, but there was nothing routine about this play at all. Clayton's knee buckled as he ran underneath the ball. His patella tendon snapped. Clayton slid on his stomach. The ball fell incomplete. Officials flagged the Lions for illegal contact, but the penalty could not offset the damage done.

Clayton left the field on a motorized cart, his season finished. The Rams wilted and lost, 44-6. Clayton's departure wasn't the only factor in the lopsided outcome, of course, but it was a decisive moment for the Rams in this game and possibly in this season.

Bradford loved throwing to Clayton because Clayton has a quarterback's understanding of the game, and he was a reliable route runner. Bradford could trust him. Clayton fit the Rams' offense.

"You'd ask any quarterback in this league, they want to feel comfortable with the guys, that they’re going to be in the same spot -- more than anything, that their routes are going to be consistent," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo told reporters Monday. "They’re working on it all the time. I think Sam’s getting more and more comfortable with the guys. I’m sure he’ll miss Mark just like we all will, but he’ll just have to get up to speed with some of the other guys."