EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For one night at least, it looked like the St. Louis Rams have a quarterback.
In a game where running back Todd Gurley struggled and wasn't able to bust any explosive plays, quarterback Case Keenum helped stake the team to a 14-0 first-quarter lead and eventual 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Rams had scored touchdowns on their opening drive of the season just twice previously this year and in the previous 13 games had scored a total of only 42 first-quarter points.
But there was Keenum completing all three of his passes on the first possession of the game for 47 yards including a 17-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Tavon Austin.
After a three-and-out, Keenum electrified a crowd that was watching what might have been the last home game in St. Louis with a perfectly thrown deep ball to wide receiver Kenny Britt that resulted in a 60-yard touchdown.
For the game, Keenum completed 14 of 17 passes for 234 yards, the two touchdowns and a passer rating of 158.0. Consider this: In their previous eight games, Rams quarterbacks Nick Foles and Keenum had a mere two touchdown passes.
Keenum was also helped by a pass-catching group that had no drops.
Said head coach Jeff Fisher, "He made some really good throws and we caught the football today. We made tough catches. We had some runs after catches, which were good. We needed to do that."
Foles was benched after a poor performance on Nov. 15 against Chicago. Keenum started the next week against Baltimore, but suffered a concussion late in the game that kept him on the sideline the following two weeks in losses to Cincinnati and Arizona. He was inactive for the game against the Bengals and then wasn't cleared until the day before the game against the Cardinals, so Foles started again.
Keenum was back under center in a win over Detroit, four days before Thursday's game. He looked comfortable in the offense and was accurate.
"It's gotten better, it has," Keenum said of his comfort level. "I mean, game experience, there's nothing like it. Obviously, there's stuff that I need to work on, I need to get better at. Times where I can hold on to the ball a little bit more, when the protection is as good as it was tonight at times. I tried to rush it a little bit. I got antsy. I just need to trust my feet, trust my read, trust my eyes and trust the offensive line to do their job."
While players generally don't care for Thursday games, Keenum said the short week was a positive.
"It's like I said on whatever day I talked to you guys, that there was less time to prepare, but at the same time, you keep things simple. You don't overthink things. You don't overthink reads. You don't have as much time to watch film, but you watch film and you take what you get. You learn, you write it down and you move on to the next area of the game. I think a lot of guys prepared really, really well. I think the coaches put it on us to prepare. I think guys did and it showed."
With two games on the road remaining in the regular season, Fisher likes what he sees from Keenum and his progress.
"He's much more comfortable," Fisher said. "He was really at ease in the game. Rhythm was good. Timing was good. Decisions were good. For the most part, this defense did a good job of disguising some things. Typically, (Tampa Bay defensive coordinator) Leslie (Frazier) does a really good job as a coordinator with this defense.
"They're somewhat simple, but he did some different things, particularly because he was setting things up and defending the run. At times he was daring us to throw the ball. When you do that, you have to disguise a little bit and he did so. He caught Case one time off guard right before half. Other than that, Case was really deliberate with his decisions."
REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS
--PASSING OFFENSE: A. That's a rare grade for the Rams' passing offense this season. QB Case Keenum completed 14 of 17 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns and a 158.0 passer rating. WRs Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt had touchdowns and TE Jared Cook fought for yards with four catches for 64 yards.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus. Gurley had his struggles, but Austin had 32 yards on four attempts, including a 21-yard touchdown. Building a lead allowed them to keep running even though Gurley averaged only 2.3 yards per attempt.
--PASS DEFENSE: B. It was an A after three quarters when QB Jameis Winston had completed just 11 of 23 attempts for 125 yards and a 64.6 passer rating. The fourth quarter was another story, although much of it was because the Rams led 28-6 entering the final 15 minutes. Winston was 18-for-27 in the final quarter for 238 yards and two touchdowns, but in a loss, all it did was pad his stats.
--RUN DEFENSE: B. The Aaron Donald stuff of RB Doug Martin on fourth-and-1 was big, and the Rams recovered a fumble when Martin never had control of a handoff from Winston. The Bucs weren't able to run much in the second half and Martin had just five carries for 23 yards. RB Charles Sims had a 35-yard run in the fourth quarter.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Benny Cunningham had a huge game as the kickoff returner with runs of 44 and 102 yards. P Johnny Hekker had another typical game, averaging 44.0 yards gross and net on five punts. There were three fair catches and two downed inside the 20. One of the fair catches was inside the 20. On two of six kickoffs returned, the Bucs averaged 19 yards.
--COACHING: A. Head coach Jeff Fisher had his team prepared on a short week and setting up a video hookup with WR Stedman Bailey provided an emotional lift on a night when there was already emotion considering it might have been the team's last game in front of St. Louis fans. Second-game offensive coordinator Rob Boras stuck with the run and had QB Case Keenum prepared to hit plays in the passing game.