Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The early reaction to the St. Louis Rams'
newest effort to repair their image as the NFL's laughingstock was that they'd
been played for fools once again.
This time, however, the joke may be on the critics.
Those detractors were out in full force prior to St. Louis' game against the
new darlings of the media, the Washington Redskins, primed and ready to point
the finger at the franchise for how it let the one player who could lift the
Rams out of their continually stale state slip right through their hands.
That blue-chipper, of course, is Robert Griffin III, the transcendent young
quarterback who's instantly transformed the Redskins from run-of-the-mill to
relevant in the public eye with a dazzling and historic pro debut one week
The consensus sentiment was that the Rams' blockbuster deal with Washington
that enabled the Redskins to secure Griffin with the second overall pick of
this past April's draft was made more out of resignation than resourcefulness,
with St. Louis' inability to find a taker for incumbent triggerman Sam
Bradford's archaic and weighty contract the presumed sole reason why it didn't
take the former Baylor University superstar for itself.
Griffin was darn good once more in Sunday's encounter with the team that
declined his services in the draft, accounting for three touchdowns (two
rushing, one passing) and 288 yards of offense (206 passing, 82 rushing) in a
fine encore to his sensational Week 1 display that fueled the Redskins'
startling upset over the supposedly mighty New Orleans Saints in the
Bradford was better.
The seemingly spiraling St. Louis signal-caller outdueled his fellow Heisman
Trophy-winning brethren with a performance most reminiscent of his NFL
Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, skillfully dissecting a Washington
defense that had flustered Drew Brees in the opener with an unexpected ease
and leading the Rams from a 15-point first-half deficit to an inspiring, 31-28
Bradford completed an on-point 26-of-35 passes for 310 yards and three
touchdowns, demonstrating that his disappointing sophomore slump of last season
was more attributable to nagging injuries and the absence of security blanket
Danny Amendola -- who abused the Redskins' defensive backs for 15 catches and
160 yards -- than any decline in his abilities.
Suddenly, St. Louis doesn't seem nearly the pushover it was pegged to be at
the start of the season, with a healthy Bradford returning stability to the
quarterback position and the team galvanized by the installation of head coach
Jeff Fisher, the one-time miracle worker in Tennessee whose credentials and
credibility have clearly helped forge a new attitude at One Rams Way.
The old Rams probably wouldn't have won Sunday's game, not without the crafty
tactical adjustments that Fisher and his veteran staff made during the second
half, and certainly not without the confidence that simply wasn't there in
"It's a completely different swagger," said running back Steven Jackson, whose
absence for the entire final two quarters of the Washington win caused by a
groin injury further illustrates St. Louis' newfound resiliency. "It's just
amazing. I know it's only Week 2 and we're 1-1, but it's just a whole
different atmosphere. I can't thank Coach Jeff Fisher enough for what he's
done and what he's doing with us."
And with extra first-round picks in each of the next two drafts as part of the
Griffin trade, the Rams' future is as bright as it's been in a long, long
Vindication also was in order for two of the other teams chasing the resurgent
San Francisco 49ers in a division that's just two years removed from the
ignominy of having a 7-9 champion, but on Sunday flexed some muscles that
practically no one knew it had.
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll's controversial decision to insert green
rookie Russell Wilson ahead of the more established (and higher salaried) Matt
Flynn at quarterback didn't look as scatterbrained as at first glance after
the poised youngster played well in the Seahawks' 27-7 manhandling of an
unsurprisingly flat Dallas team, while Arizona finally got a noteworthy return
on its risky investment in Kevin Kolb when the maligned acquisition had a hand
in the Cardinals pulling off by far the most shocking result of Sunday's
slate, a 20-18 win over defending AFC champion New England which marked only
the second home loss by the powerful Patriots in their last 37 regular-season
tilts at Gillette Stadium in which Tom Brady's been under center.
Kolb was hardly prolific in standing in for the injured John Skelton at
quarterback, but wasn't a liability, either. He generally showed sound decision
making and hung tough against a steady New England pass rush while operating
behind a patchwork offensive line. He directed a pair of long scoring drives
that helped Arizona take a 20-9 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"The noise didn't bother him. The situations didn't bother him," Cardinals
head coach Ken Whisenhunt remarked. "He made some plays for us. One thing he
knows, he understands what we are trying to do and he did a nice job today of
moving in the pocket, being smart with the ball. The one thing -- the
fumble (near the end of the game) was unfortunate, but I am really pleased
with how he handled himself."
Very quietly, Arizona has won nine of its last 11 games dating back to
November of last season, using a stifling defense that hasn't gotten near the
credit it's deserved and timely plays on special teams to offset Skelton and
Kolb's deficiencies as passers. Although there's been a little luck involved as
well -- such as usually reliable Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski shanking a
deciding 42-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds of Sunday's matchup --
it doesn't devalue the bang-up job done by Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator
Ray Horton in maximizing the available talent.
And if the Cardinals can get a little more consistency from either of their
two quarterbacks, posing a serious threat to a San Francisco squad that's
showed it may have the fewest chinks in the armor of any team in the NFL
through the first two weeks isn't as far-fetched as it may appear.
The same goes for the Seahawks, who showcased their defensive prowess while
receiving a highly efficient outing from Wilson (15-of-20, 151 yards, one
touchdown, no interceptions) and a monster one from running back Marshawn Lynch
(122 rushing yards, one touchdown) against the same Dallas team that kicked off
the season with a black-type road win over the 2011 world champion New York
Giants. Seattle physically overpowered the Cowboys on both sides of the ball in
executing Carroll's blueprint for success to near perfection.
Like the Cardinals, Seattle has some flaws that can be exploited by the right
opponent on the right day. And like the Rams, the Seahawks are banking on
several lightly experienced players coming of age quickly and feeding off the
energy and positivity that their proven head coach instills.
It's too early to tell as to whether any of these upstarts can loosen the
49ers' seemingly iron-clad grip on the division or viably contend for a
playoff spot. But if nothing else, the NFC West has just gotten a whole lot
The Sports Network