ST. LOUIS --
Bradford rose from the stool in front of his locker, flashed an incredulous smile and asked: "Did you see all the throws I missed?"
"Yeah," the visitor replied. "But I also saw all the throws that you made."
Bradford then excused himself to fulfill a media obligation. When teammates and coaches learned of the exchange later in the day, they smiled and nodded. It was so Bradford. Since being selected No. 1 overall in April's draft, the former Oklahoma star has established that he's more consumed with missed opportunities than made plays.
"He's a perfectionist," says second-year linebacker
That approach is a big reason the 3-3 Rams have already matched their victory total from the previous two seasons combined, and why they're in the hunt for the NFC West title, trailing first-place Arizona and Seattle by a half game. Bradford has completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,357 yards and seven touchdowns, with eight interceptions (which are eight fewer than Colts four-time league MVP
He is doing it with an inconsistent running game -- the Rams rank 17th in rushing, averaging 104.3 yards a game -- and the most nondescript wideout corps in the league. Consider:
Still, Bradford refuses to blink or complain. In arguably the most challenging situation a young quarterback can face -- third-and-8 or longer -- he has a league-high 119.9 rating under those conditions, completing 10 of 18 passes for 149 yards and two scores, with no picks. Manning's rating is 87.2 rating in that situation.
"He's so smooth and composed," says Lions safety
Bradford has been everything the organization envisioned, a first-in, last-out guy who possesses natural leadership skills and is consumed by the game. He earned the respect of veterans in the offseason by shying away from promotional opportunities because he felt he hadn't done anything to earn the attention.
When the baseball Cardinals invited him to a game and planned to introduce him to the crowd, he stipulated that the team's other QBs had to be invited and introduced in the same way. The first time he went to dinner with Laurinaitis, he picked up the tab even though Laurinaitis told him it wasn't necessary. (Bradford could afford it; he signed a potential $78 million deal that includes $50 million in guarantees.)
"Sam's just a good dude," says veteran cornerback
There are no secrets to Bradford's success. He has size (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), intelligence, athleticism and a right arm that's as strong as Baltimore's
Besides arriving early and staying late, he spends Tuesday afternoons in the coaches' offices going over the previous game and getting a jump on the next opponent. He arrives with pencils, notebooks and questions -- and a willingness to point out the things he did not do well.
"I think you have to be critical of yourself," says Bradford. "The minute you stop beating yourself up is the minute that you settle. And the minute that you settle and stop pushing yourself, that's when things start to go downhill."