ST. LOUIS — Sam Bradford is done for the season, and the chances on this being the year the St. Louis Rams post their first winning season in a decade changed dramatically.
They insist the season is far from over.
Coach Jeff Fisher told players to keep their chins up on Monday, referencing a book by an inspirational speaker as a rallying point for the final nine games.
"We're going to see a lot of people step up," defensive end Chris Long said. "And we're going to see a lot of people step up that you might not expect."
One of them needs to be Kellen Clemens, who'll be making his 13th career start in eight seasons next Monday night against the Seahawks.
Clemens has been the backup the past two years and was with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer with the Jets, too, so he knows the scheme.
Plus, he's the only other quarterback on the roster.
"Somebody's got to play," Clemens said. "So I'll go out there and do the best job I can and try to help this team win some games," Clemens said.
Bradford will have season-ending surgery for a torn ligament in his left knee after getting hurt in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 30-15 loss at Carolina that dropped the Rams to 3-4.
The Rams feared the worst on the return flight and on Monday announced results of an MRI.
Surgery will be done in the next 2-3 weeks once the swelling goes down and Fisher was confident Bradford would make a complete recovery in time for next season.
"Very disappointing," middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "I thought he was putting up a strong season. It's a long grind now for him."
The Rams will be auditioning quarterbacks this week but Fisher said they won't make a trade, which means Clemens is likely set for his first extended opportunity since he made eight starts in 2007 for the Jets.
At his regular day-after news conference, Fisher did his best to dismiss all rumors and said he wasn't "at liberty" to discuss any names. One potential name is Austin Davis, released at the end of training camp.
"There's a lot of speculation out there, everybody's talking and everybody knows more than we do right now OK?" Fisher said. "Trust me, we have a process in place and we're going through that process."
Clemens pointed out the coincidence that his first game with the Rams was a Monday night loss at Seattle in December 2011, days after signing a free agent deal. He did not play against the Seahawks but then started the final three games of a 2-14 season, all losses.
"It's a different team, it's a different set of opponents, different everything," Clemens said. "I am excited for the opportunity."
Bradford tore his anterior cruciate ligament when he landed on his knee after being shoved out of bounds by safety Mike Mitchell. Teammates feared the worst once they saw him carted off the field and on crutches in the locker room.
Bradford has 14 touchdown passes and just four interceptions this season. Still, he has his detractors, critics who insist he has not measured up to the billing of a No. 1 overall pick.
"He was playing very, very well, not only yesterday but was just improving weekly," Fisher said. "The challenge is obvious in this world when you have an impact player go down.
"He was off to a great start, so it's unfortunate but he'll be back. He's our quarterback."
In his fourth season out of Oklahoma, Bradford has been nudging his way up the ladder, among the top half of the league's best quarterbacks. He's been taking charge and minimizing mistakes — exactly what the youngest team in the NFL needed.
Bradford threw for 255 yards and a score Sunday, with one interception and two sacks. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 11 consecutive games. St. Louis had won its previous two games, with Bradford throwing three TD passes in each.
Bradford is no stranger to injuries. He missed six games with a high left ankle sprain in 2011. He had season-ending shoulder surgery in 2009 when he was at Oklahoma.
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