ST. LOUIS -- After St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford stood in the pocket and fired a picture-perfect 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lance Kendricks early in the second quarter, it looked on television like he turned to his sideline and yelled, "I'm back!"
After Saturday's 21-7 preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers, Bradford said those weren't his words; instead, he was shouting a popular meeting room catchphrase to fellow quarterbacks and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. But even if Bradford didn't say it, he might as well have.
For someone who hasn't played in a live football game in 300 days after suffering a torn ACL in October 2013, Bradford's return against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday afternoon was mostly a success. If Bradford didn't want to boldly announce his return, his head coach had no problems doing so on his behalf.
"Anybody that had questions about Sam’s condition, his physical condition, I think they were answered," coach Jeff Fisher said. "I was very pleased with his performance in the brief amount of time that he played. You see he had the fastball and the great throw to Brian [Quick] and also to Lance. I’m happy with his game. I know he’s excited that thing is clearly behind him now and we’ll move forward. That was encouraging."
Bradford didn't move the Rams up and down the field on his two series with the ease of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, but that wasn't necessarily the goal considering Bradford hadn't played in a game since Oct. 20, 2013. No, the main objective for Bradford on Saturday afternoon had nothing to do with statistics and everything to do with getting him used to being back in the mix.
Fisher called Bradford off after two series and 18 snaps -- 12 pass plays and six run plays. Four more plays were wiped away by penalties.
Along the way, Bradford didn't come under too much pressure as the Rams clearly made a point of protecting him with quick, short throws, though some would argue that's just business as usual. Either way, Bradford held up just fine physically, taking only one hard hit courtesy of Green Bay linebacker Julius Peppers.
"I knew I was going to take a hit or two today, that's just part of the game," Bradford said. "But it's always nice to get that first one under your belt knowing that everything is going to be OK."
That Bradford's final stat line looked the way it did was really just a bonus. He finished 9-of-12 for 101 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a rating of 127.4.
The first Bradford-led drive came with some ups and downs as he knocked off a little bit of rust. He hung in the pocket in the face of pressure to convert a fourth-down pass to tight end Jared Cook for 5 yards.
Two penalties and a short incompletion later, Bradford took his first deep shot when receiver Kenny Britt was open down the right sideline. The throw was a beat late and too wide, falling incomplete, which led to a punt two snaps later.
"I just missed it outside a little bit," Bradford said. "It was an opportunity for a big play, just got to beep it inbounds. I like the decision, just have to give him a better ball."
Whatever rust might have lingered on that misfire disappeared on Bradford's second series. On the team's lone scoring drive, Bradford went 4-of-5 for 63 yards and a touchdown. His two most impressive completions came within those four connections, including a 41-yarder to Quick on a ball that was a little high but still on target, and the touchdown to Kendricks.
On the touchdown pass, Bradford fired over the middle of the field to a seemingly covered Kendricks, but the ball had enough velocity on it that it cut through Green Bay's defense and led Kendricks to an open spot.
Bradford chose not to share what he actually shouted to the sideline in celebration, but he definitely sent a message.
"In the quarterback room we've kind of got something we say and I looked over at Schotty and gave him one of those," Bradford said. "So, it was just kind of a signal to him."
For Bradford, it's a long road between the second preseason game and a successful regular season, but Saturday's performance was clearly a step in the right direction.