FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Sam Bradford passed his first test as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
And the player who ended the game at that position for the Rams, Keith Null, directed a drive that set up Josh Brown’s 37-yard field goal on the final play that gave St. Louis a 36-35 exhibition win over the New England Patriots on Thursday night.
Bradford, the top pick in this year’s draft, was poised and precise in playing the first half. He went 15 for 22 for 189 yards after struggling as a backup in his first two games. But Tom Brady threw touchdown passes on three consecutive drives and the Patriots (2-1) turned a 27-14 deficit into a 35-27 lead.
St. Louis (2-1) rallied for a 2-yard touchdown run by Keith Toston and the game-winning field goal.
The Patriots didn’t get a first down until 3:10 remained in the first half, but Brady finished with 18 completions in 22 attempts for 273 yards.
Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner who missed most of last season at Oklahoma with a shoulder injury, had a much better half. He completed his first six passes and threw for two touchdowns in his first start since last October.
A.J. Feeley started the first two games but was sidelined with a sprained right thumb. The No. 1 job is still up for grabs, but Bradford made a solid case for himself, although the Patriots defense was porous all night.
Bradford zipped passes between and over defenders.
He went 4 for 4 for 48 yards and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Michael Hoomanawanui on his first series. On his third possession, Bradford was 3 for 4 for 48 yards, setting up a 25-yard field goal by Brown for a 10-7 lead.
And on his fourth series, he hooked up with Hoomanawanui again for a 12-yard score and a 17-7 lead. Brown added a 45-yard field goal after Rob Gronkowski’s 14-yard touchdown catch, putting St. Louis ahead 20-14 at halftime.
Another Rams rookie quarterback, free agent Thaddeus Lewis from Duke, then led a 15-play, 76-yard march on the first series of the third quarter. It lasted 9 minutes, 19 seconds and ended with a 20-yard scoring pass to Brandon Gibson.
Then the Patriots began their comeback — Brady’s touchdown passes of 65 yards to Randy Moss and 20 yards to Gronkowski for a 28-27 lead with 13:59 left in the game. Brian Hoyer than hit Sam Aiken with a 5-yard scoring pass after an interception by Brandon McGowan, making it 35-27.
St. Louis marched down field to Toston’s touchdown, but Lewis’ conversion pass that would have tied the game was incomplete.
The Patriots had grabbed the lead just 12 seconds into the game on a 97-yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate. But the next four times they got the ball, they failed to get a first down and punted.