NFL Preseason, Rams At Patriots: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Edge Pats Despite Three Tom Brady Touchdown Passes

Tom Brady finished 18-of-22 with three touchdowns, two of which went to Rob Gronkowski, but the Rams offense tallied nearly 500 yards of offense as they edged the Patriots Thursday night, 36-35. Read more at SB Nation St. Louis and our team blogs, Turf Show Times and Pats Pulpit.

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Ron Brace Sustains Ankle Injury, May Sit Out Final Game Against Giants

There were some positives from the New England Patriots’ loss Thursday night against the St. Louis Rams. Tom Brady’s first half performance was certainly one of them. There were causes for concern though – the play of the defense late in the game most notably. The Pats also were unable to escape the injury bug completely. Reserve defensive lineman Ron Brace, who failed his physical at the start of training camp, injured his right ankle early in the 4th quarter and limped off the field for the final time of the evening. In fact, it could be the final snap of Brace’s 2010 preseason. The good news though is that Brace doesn’t appear to have sustained any ligament damage and should be able to make a full and speedy recover for the regular season.

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Is Rob Gronkowski The Next Great Patriots Tight End?

Was that Ben Coates or Rob Gronkowski out there? The Patriots rookie -- who even wears No. 87 -- sure looked like the next great Patriots tight end Thursday night. The 6-foot-6, 266-pounder out of Arizona hauled in a pair of touchdown receptions against the Rams, the first of which would've made Earl Campbell proud. The Globe's Monique Walker was there:

On a second-and-6 play from the Rams' 14, Gronkowski secured a short pass from Tom Brady and turned toward the end zone. [James] Laurinaitis fell to Gronkowski's feet as Gronkowski dragged the linebacker 2 yards before he could stretch his 6-foot-6-inch body toward the goal line.

Brady, who's never operated with a stellar tight end, must be pleased to have a wide target who can actually, you know, catch. (Imagine if Drew Bledsoe didn't have Coates in the 1990s. Yikes.) Gronkowski, one of New England's three second-round picks in April's NFL Draft, doesn't seem hampered by a back injury that sidelined him in 2009. (He and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer also hooked up for a 24-yard TD against Atlanta last week.)

Gronkowski is making me look bad. I thought I made a shrewd move in my fantasy auction draft, snagging fellow Pats rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez -- who scored against the Falcons last week but didn't play against St. Louis -- for $1. I probably picked the wrong guy.

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VIDEO: Tom Brady's Highlights Against Rams

While the Patriots' defense certainly left a lot to be desired Thursday night against the Rams, there were some bright spots for New England. Most notably: Tom Brady.

Brady finished 18-for-22 with three touchdowns and 273 yards. Video proof!

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NFL Preseason, Rams At Patriots: New England's Defense Hardly A Witness to Brady's Gem

The fireworks started early when Brandon Tate ran the opening St. Louis kickoff 97 yards back for a touchdown. After that, it should have been a breeze for the Patriots offense. 

But somebody forgot to tell the defense that there was a game to play, too.

While Tom Brady was composing an offensive symphony to rival Beethoven and Tarkenton, Vince Wilfork, Gerald Warren and Leigh Bodden, among others, kept hitting the snooze button. The Rams recorded 26 first downs -- 18 of them through the air against the Patriots defense that has been the team's bright spot of late, converting 67 percent of their 3rd- and 4th-down chances. 

The Rams finished the game with 462 total offensive yards, 189 of them complements of Bradford, who went 15-for-22 with two touchdowns. SB Nation blog Pats Pulpit further details the struggles of the Patriots' defense, which weren't aided by the home team's inability to generate any kind of rushing attack.

With presumed opening day starter Laurence Maroney manning the pine all game, a trio of BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk combined to rush for 28 yards on 11 carries -- a far cry from last week's performance where Morris and Fred Taylor each recorded over 50 yards and a touchdown. 

As has been the case since the breakout 2007 season, the Patriots offense was supposed to be the featured entity in the game, and they didn't disappoint. Brady went 18-for-22 for 273 yards and three touchdowns, commanding a drive late in the second quarter that featured three separate highlight-reel plays:

The first was a 39 yard post play that was thrown on a rope to Wes Welker. The second play started with the pocket collapsing on Tom Brady. Brady fell to the ground, only to realize that he actually had time to throw. So Brady got up, delivered a rope to the sidelines that was caught byAlge Crumpler, who had to dive, drag both feet, and maintain possession of the ball to make the catch. The third highlight reel play came shortly after. Tom Brady found rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski crossing over the middle. Gronkowski had linebacker James Laurinaitis draped on his ankles, yet Gronkowski kept driving his legs, and literally jumping his way six yards into the end zone.

The brilliance wasn't just Brady but how the Pats' aerial attack utilized its tools; seven Patriots had catches, six of them had multiple catches, and almost everyone displayed a flair for the dramatic. 

But in a game where the offense showed what it's capable of, the running game never materialized against what was last year's 27th-ranked rush defense. The Patriots fell victim to the same plague that was their undoing last year: an inability to run the ball with a lead kept the defense on the field far too long, and in the end, they didn't have enough in the tank to hold on.

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VIDEO: Tom Brady Hooks Up With Randy Moss For 65-Yard Touchdown

Sure, it's only the preseason, but a Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss 65-yard touchdown pass is pretty any time of the year.

Sixty yards in the air, and it hits Moss perfectly in stride. Might be safe to say those two are ready for Week 1.

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NFL Preseason, Rams At Patriots: St. Louis Edges New England Despite Three Tom Brady Touchdown Passes, 36-35

Foxboro, MA (Sports Network) – Josh Brown’s 37-yard field goal in the final seconds lifted St. Louis to a 36-35 win over New England in a preseason contest from Gillette Stadium.

Sam Bradford was under center for the first half, going 15-of-22 for 189 yards and two touchdowns for the Rams, who improved to 2-1 in their exhibition slate.

Michael Hoomanawanui posted four catches for 53 yards and two TDs, Brandon Gibson also added a touchdown reception and Keith Toston had 41 rushing yards and a score on 12 carries.

Donnie Avery left following the first half with a right knee injury after two catches for 48 yards.

Tom Brady was lifted early in the fourth quarter but not before going 18-of-22 for 273 yards and three scores for the Patriots, who had won their previous two preseason tilts.

Randy Moss contributed a 65-yard touchdown catch, while Rob Gronkowski added two more TD receptions and Sam Aiken also hauled in a pass for a score.

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NFL Preseason, Rams At Patriots: Turf Show Times Looks At Most Interesting Matchups

The biggest storyline of Thursday nights preseason game between the Rams and Patriots, at least from a national stand point, is rookie quarterback Sam Bradford making his first NFL start. And while it will certainly be interesting to see how he performs on the road in New England, SB Nation's Rams blog, Turf Show Times, breaks down the other keys to the game, which are just as important, if not more so.

In particular, the Rams' run defense against the new and improved Patriots' ground attack.

The Pats have been very committed to running the ball in the preseason. Belichick's team is averaging 122 yards per game on the ground this month, and is tied for the league lead with 5 rushing TDs. Most of those yards have been grinded out too, as NE averages 3.7 yards per attempt and has just two runs of 20 or more yards. The Rams have not allowed a rushing TD thus far and opponents are averaging 88 yards per game and just 3.0 yards per attempt.

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Pats Pulpit: Pass Rush And OLB Play Important Focus For Patriots Thursday Night

Thursday night, the Patriots host the Rams in the third preseason exhibition of the summer. Typically, this is the game that sees the starters play the longest as the coaching staff uses it as a final tune-up before the regular season, and as such, it's often considered the most important. Pats Pulpit highlights six things to watch for:

Pass Rush/Outside Linebacker Play: Tully Banta-Cain returned to practice this week and is expected to play in tonight's game.  With Banta-Cain back, we'll get our first look at the Banta-Cain/Derrick Burgess combination at outside linebacker.  The two rushers will be going up against to young tackles in Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold, so they should be able to take advantage of their experience.

Offense in the 2nd Half: One of the problems the Patriots had last season was closing out games, and putting up points on offense in the 2nd half.  With the starters expected to get their most extended playing time of the preseason, it will be interesting to see if they can gather a lead in the first half, then come out strong and extend it in the second half.

Inside Linebacker Rotation:  With Gary Guyton finally healthy, the Patriots should get a chance to better evaluate the inside linebacker corps.  Brandon Spikes will likely still be the starter, but it will be interesting to see how the Patriots can rotate in Guyton on passing downs.

Additionally, Greg Knopping touches on Offensive Line Depth, Secondary/Sub-Packages and Running Back Competition.

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NFL Preseason, Rams At Patriots: ESPN Boston's 10 Things To Watch On Thursday Night

The third preseason game of the year for the Patriots comes Thursday night. The third exhibition affair is typically the game when coaches will play their starters the longest, usually for as much as an entire half. If that trend holds true when the Patriots square off against the Rams, fans will get their longest and best look at how the team will play when Bill Belichick’s group begins the regular season schedule in a few weeks time.

ESPN Boston has posted a list of ten things to keep an eye on during Thursday night’s tilt against the Rams. It’s a nicely put together list worthy of a read.

Here’s several of the keys to track closely in their eyes (without the proceeding explanations):

1. Banta-Cain, Burgess and the pass rush.

2. Laurence Maroney’s place on the depth chart.

3. Run-defense gets a good test…

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NFL Preseason, Rams At Patriots: Sam Bradford Make First Pro Start

(Sports Network) - Rookie Sam Bradford will get the start behind center on Thursday night, as the No. 1 pick of the St. Louis Rams leads his team into battle against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

Bradford will be making his third appearance of the preseason, but will open a game for the first time after relieving A.J. Feeley in a loss to the Vikings (28-7) and win over the Browns (19-17). Feeley injured his elbow and thumb in the Cleveland win, and will miss at least one game.

Bradford, the former Oklahoma star and Heisman Trophy winner, has struggled thus far during the warm-up period, completing 12-of-27 passes (44.4 percent) for 81 yards, a 51.6 passer rating, and four sacks absorbed. The rookie, who inked a contract guaranteeing him $50 million earlier this summer, is expected to work the first half before giving way to Keith Null.

The story on defense for the Rams will be the play, and health, of the secondary as they face one of the league's top passing attacks. Cornerbacks Kevin Dockery (hip), Justin King (calf), Jerome Murphy (ankle) and safeties James Butler (knee) and Kevin Payne (knee) all missed the Cleveland win and another cornerback, Ron Bartell (neck) was injured in the contest.

The Patriots, meanwhile, will be trying to keep their collective foot on the gas after opening the preseason with encouraging wins over the Saints (27-24) and Falcons (28-10).

Quarterback Tom Brady has been razor-sharp in a couple of warm-up outings, completing 15-of-20 passes for 152 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers in his two appearances.

Adding to the optimism in last week's win over the Falcons was the on-field presence of wide receiver Wes Welker, who caught two passes for 20 yards roughly seven-and-a-half months after suffering a major knee injury in the Pats' regular season finale against the Houston Texans. There had been speculation following the injury that Welker would not be ready for the start of the 2010 regular season.

Brady and the New England starters should play about a half on Thursday, in keeping with third-game-of-preseason tradition, before Brian Hoyer and the second-team takes over.

Also expected to play for the Pats against the Rams is recently-acquired offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka. Ojinnaka, who appeared in 39 games with the Falcons from 2006-09, starting 12, is trying to fit in on a decimated trench group. Right tackle Nick Kaczur could miss the season after undergoing recent back surgery, and Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins is embroiled in a contract holdout with the team and looks no closer to reporting to the team.

Cornerback Leigh Bodden (knee) is among the Patriots' injury question marks for Thursday.

The preseason series between the Rams and Patriots is knotted, 4-4, with New England evening the series by virtue of a 28-10 win in the last such meeting, in Anaheim prior to the 1994 campaign.

The teams last met in meaningful play in 2008 at Gillette Stadium, a 23-16 Patriots victory.

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