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Bradford leads Rams to 15-12 win over Bills

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Bradford leads Rams to 15-12 win over Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Steven Jackson has been around for enough of the bad times in St. Louis to appreciate what it means to still be in the playoff hunt at this time of year.

Slim as the Rams' hopes might be, Jackson's going to enjoy this as much - and for as long - as he can.

``At this point in December, for us to still have meaningful games, for guys to come collectively together as a team, it means a lot,'' the veteran running back said. ``This team is definitely showing growth and maturity.''

After five consecutive losing seasons, the Rams (6-6-1) took their latest step forward under first-year coach Jeff Fisher with a 15-12 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. A week after rallying St. Louis to a 16-13 overtime win over San Francisco, quarterback Sam Bradford produced his second consecutive fourth-quarter comeback with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson with 48 seconds remaining.

They've now won three straight for the first time since closing the 2006 season with a 3-0 finish. They won on cold, wet day, with temperatures in the high 30s and a light rain falling for much of the second half. And victory came on the road, where the Rams were 1-3-1 this season, and 8-36-1 since 2007.

``I think this team grew up a little more today,'' Bradford said. ``When it mattered, the guys stepped up and made plays.''

The defense did its part by making five sacks and forcing two turnovers, including when linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar ended the Bills' final drive by intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick pass.

And then there was Bradford, who directed the decisive 14-play, 84-yard drive in which he twice converted on third down, and also hit receiver Austin Pettis while facing fourth-and-1.

``Sam's not a guy who gets flustered,'' Fisher said.

No, that's the M.O. of a Bills team that at 5-8 continues to find ways to lose, and is all but mathematically certain of extending the NFL's longest active playoff drought to 13 years.

``Yeah, we have to develop a killer instinct,'' Fitzpatrick said. ``As an offense, we have to put them away, and we didn't do that today.''

The offense settled for two field goals and running back Fred Jackson's fumble in three drives inside the Rams 25 in the first half.

And the defense unraveled when it mattered by squandering a lead in the final 70 seconds for the second time at home this season. The other time that happened came in 35-34 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 21.

What's worse, safety George Wilson twice had chances to intercept Bradford on the final drive, only to drop the ball each time.

``You have to be a finisher in this league,'' Wilson said. ``Those are the plays you replay over and over in your head, wishing that the ball would've bounced your way.''

Much of the blame is starting to be directed at third-year head coach Chan Gailey, who was once again being second-guessed for his play-calling.

Despite having three timeouts, and the ball on the Rams 34 with 38 seconds left in the second quarter, the Bills mismanaged the clock by getting off only three plays for 10 yards before settling for Rian Lindell's 40-yard field goal.

And questions remained as to why Gailey was overly cautious in limiting the workload of running back C.J. Spiller, the team's most dynamic weapon. Despite leading the NFL in averaging 6.62 yards per carry, Spiller only had three carries for 27 yards in the second half, and finished with seven carries for 37 yards.

Gailey chalked it up to his two-back rotation. And when it came time to run the ball, Jackson happened to be the one on the field.

``Bottom line, we could not make plays,'' Gailey said. ``It is a bitter pill to swallow.''

NOTES: Fitzpatrick finished 25 of 33 for 247 yards with a 2-yard touchdown to Lee Smith, and an interception. ... Bradford finished 19 of 39 for 209 yards, an interception and hit Chris Givens on a 2-point conversion. ... Jackson had 64 yards rushing and scored on a 1-yard plunge, while Gibson made six catch for 100 yards. ... Bills DE Mario Williams had a sack, his sixth in four games to give him a team-leading 10 1/2. ... Bills RB Fred Jackson's status is uncertain after he was carted off from the sideline after hurting his right leg late in the fourth quarter.

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Max Scherzer's return from hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Max Scherzer's return from hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Better. Though the bar was low.

Max Scherzer worked for six innings Tuesday night in New York. He made it through one roughshod inning during his last outing against the Mets because his hamstring “tweak” was enough of an alarm that he decided to stop pitching.

That was seven days prior to his start against the Mets, which the Nationals won, 2-1. Ostensibly, Scherzer had not pitched for 13 days. He lasted the one inning, needed to work his hamstring problem out, then find a way back to the mound.

Davey Martinez wanted him to stop sprinting -- the initial cause of the hamstring problem -- in between starts. Scherzer did not want to stop sprinting, so he continued to do so once he felt better. He also pitched twice from a mound in the days before the bottom of the first on Tuesday. Both times, he felt 100 percent when pushing and landing. The hamstring was fine. So much so, that he expected to throw the 105 pitches he did to hold off the Mets across the grinding innings they imposed on him.

“Took some shots there early, but didn’t break and found a way to execute pitches there later in the game,” Scherzer said.

RELATED: TREA TURNER'S SWING HAS TAKEN TIME TO ADJUST WITHOUT REPLAY ACCESS

He finished with seven strikeouts across the six innings. Just a run scored. But, there were eight baserunners and Scherzer was in severe trouble in both the first and second innings. Those were the issues as he hunted a path to better out-pitches and location.

“It honestly kind of reminded me of Game 7 of the World Series when he went out there and he couldn’t zone in on the strike zone,” Martinez said. “His stuff was good. His pitch count got high. Once he settled in, we started noticing he started getting through the ball a little better. Balls started coming down. Started throwing a lot more strikes.”

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“Even though my pitch count got out of control, I was just able to just stay with [Kurt Suzuki] and continue to pound the zone and find a way to get through six [Tuesday],” Scherzer said.

The good is clear: He is back on the mound, healthy, throwing 98 mph and 100-plus pitches. Stephen Strasburg returned two days prior, though he is not 100 percent. Scherzer is physically right, if slightly rusty. That combination was sufficient in his first start after the hamstring problem.

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With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

Heading into the Nationals’ four-game series with the New York Mets this week, Trea Turner was hitting just .196 on the young season with one home run. The vaunted base stealer had been thrown out on the basepaths three times while having yet to swipe a bag successfully. In the field, he’d racked up three errors.

It was a frustrating start for the 27-year-old shortstop, who’s coming off a season in which he played with only nine fingers and still found a way to serve as a catalyst atop the Nationals’ lineup. Now fully healthy, Turner was expected to play a role in helping Washington absorb the loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of its lineup.

Normally, poor at-bats would prompt Turner to head down to the replay room for a quick look at his mechanics. He goes into the clubhouse in between innings and examines his previous swings to see if he needs to make any adjustments. It’s a practice Turner has grown to rely on over the course of his major-league career.

But this season, Turner hasn’t had access to the replay room after MLB banned in-game video as part of its health protocols for playing in the middle of a pandemic. Instead, he’s had to wait until after each game before being able to break down his swing. It’s made for slower progress, but after going 5-for-9 with two home runs and four RBIs over the first two games of the series in New York, he feels that his adjustments have started to pay off.

“I felt good in the box and I feel like my approach was good but not having video is a little different and I feel like in years past I was pretty good at going back and just checking out the swing real quick and making the little adjustment I need to make in game,” Turner said in a Zoom press conference after Tuesday’s 2-1 win.

“Finally made the right adjustment a few games ago and started putting the barrel on the ball and feeling a little better. The last four or five games or so my contact has been a little bit stronger and it was just a matter of time for the hits to start to fall.”

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Turner hasn’t been the only member of the baseball community to express how the lack of video access has changed their approach. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash told MLB Network Radio that he wasn’t pleased with MLB’s decision to ban something that had become an integral tool for coaches and players during games.

“Without being too controversial, I think it's absolutely ridiculous,” Cash said. “It's probably one of the worst things that I've seen Major League Baseball do in take video away from players. Video is what makes us good. It helps us learn, it helps us coach, it helps us attack. And it's been taken away from us because of one team, or a couple teams' stupid choices.”

“We can't even watch a game; we cannot watch our own game. Our players cannot come in and watch a game in the clubhouse. It is asinine. The entire protocol system, how they came up with that, it is wrong. They're doing an injustice to players.”

While it’s unknown whether the real reasoning behind MLB’s decision is related to health protocols or the sign-stealing scandals that surrounded the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox over the offseason, Turner isn’t making any excuses. In fact, the results are beginning to turn his way.

Entering play Tuesday, Turner had a hard-hit percentage of 40.9 percent, well above his career rate of 32.5. His batting average on balls in play was just .238 (league average is .300), indicating he had been getting unlucky on some well struck balls. In fact, his groundball rate is down five percentage points from his career average while his flyball rate is up 10 percent.

Then came his home run off Mets starter Rick Porcello in the first inning. Turner took a breaking ball high and away and hit it off his back foot on a line straight into the seats in right field.

It was only Turner’s second opposite-field homer of his career after he hit none all of last season. Yet even with the adjustments he’d been making to his swing, he said that he didn’t go into the at-bat looking to hit anything to right field against Porcello.

“I think it’s just swing path and pitch,” Turner said. “I’ve hit a few balls to right-center out in certain stadiums, mostly probably at home, and I don’t know if those are opposite field per se. They might be more center field but I just think when you’re facing righties, to hit an opposite-field home run is fairly tough. He tried going toward that backdoor sinker and I just felt like it was the right swing on the right pitch and just keeping it fair and not slicing the ball.”

Turner will continue tweaking away at his swing, hoping to produce results like he has so far in the New York. But with or without the video replay room, he doesn’t expect the opposite-field homer to be the start of a new trend.

“I don’t have necessarily that oppo power some of these big guys get,” Turner said. “I usually have to pull them but every once in a while, if you get the right pitch on the right swing, it sneaks out. So I’ll take it.”

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