ORCHARD PARK -- The National Football League is a league of finishers, according to Buffalo Bills linebacker Bryan Scott.
"The teams that know how to finish, win," he said. "And the teams that don't, lose."
Scott's theory passed muster Sunday afternoon at soggy Ralph Wilson Stadium as the St. Louis Rams, behind quarterback Sam Bradford, finished with a flourish to nip the Bills, 15-12. Bradford's 13-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson with 48 seconds remaining capped a compelling 14-play, 84-yard drive that kept alive the Rams playoff hopes and enabled them to win three straight for the first time in six seasons. St. Louis is 6-6-1.
The Bills, meanwhile, frittered away another late lead to drop to 5-8 and almost assure themselves a 13th consecutive season without a playoff appearance.
Bradford, who was under duress from Bills pass rushers much of the day, completed 5-of-11 passes for 68 yards during the final drive. His last two completions were to Gibson, including one for 15 yards to the Bills 13, which set up the winning score.
"He saved the day," Bradford said of Gibson, who finished with six receptions for 100 yards. "I think he did a great job of getting free, making tough catches and picking up big yardage after the catch."
Until that final march, the Rams had managed just 201 yards of offense. Eight drives ended in punts, another in an interception.
"When it was crunch time," said Bradford, who finished 19-of-39 for 209 yards and one score, "guys stepped up and made plays."
And the Bills didn't. Two plays, in particular, stand out on that final drive -- each involving safety George Wilson and each with the potential to ice the victory for Buffalo.
With 1:56 left and the Bills nursing a 12-7 lead, Bradford threw a short pass over the middle. Wilson stepped in front of receiver Chris Givens, but dropped the ball at the Buffalo 33.Three snaps later, Wilson again anticipated a pass -- this time to Lance Kendricks at the Bills 17, but the safety couldn't hold onto it.
Bradford took advantage of the second chances to find Gibson for the two completions that enabled the Rams to pull out the victory. St. Louis capped the scoring when Bradford hit Givens for the two-point conversion.
Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick's desperation pass at the Bills 48 with 12 seconds remain to close the deal.
"Sam and the offensive guys came alive on the last drive and made plays -- converted a fourth down and a two-point conversion," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher. "Sam's not a guy who gets flustered. He understands what's going on. He has respect for the defense, respect for their cover ability. We even talked about it last night. There's gonna be some balls knocked down. There's gonna be times where we get off the field on third down without converting. But if we just hang in there, someone needs to make a play -- and he did."
Defenses dominated on this day as the teams combined for 15 punts and just three touchdowns.
The Bills took a 3-0 lead near the end of the first quarter on a 35-yard field goal by Rian Lindell. The kick capped 10-play, 56-yard drive and included a 15-yard screen pass from Fitzpatrick to C.J. Spiller and a 15-yard pass to tight end Scott Chandler.
Buffalo was driving for another score on its next series, but the march ended when Rams safety Quintin Mikell punched the ball out of Fred Jackson's hands and linebacker James Laurinaitis recovered at the St. Louis 19.
The Bills increased their lead to 6-0 near the end of the of the half on Lindell's 40-yard field goal. The score was set up when cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepted Bradford's pass. He returned the pick to the end zone, but the touchdown was nullified when Kyle Moore was called for defensive holding on the return.
St. Louis took the lead midway through the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Steven Jackson. Bradford, who completed just 5-of-13 for 37 yards in the first half, was 5-of-6 for 56 yards on the drive.
Buffalo went up 12-7 on its next possession with a 9-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to tight end Lee Smith. The extra point failed when the snap slipped through the hands of holder Shawn Powell.
The Rams saved their best for the end as Bradford kept his cool and Gibson made some pivotal receptions.
NOTES: Bills defensive end Mario Williams picked up sixth sack in the past four games and surpassed the double-digit mark for the third time in his 7-year NFL career. His 10.5 sacks are the most by a Bill in six seasons. ... Rams punter Johnny Hekker was credited with a punt for zero yards early in the fourth quarter. The snap sailed through his hands and he had to retrieve it and kick on the run while being pressured. The play gave the Bills the ball on their 49. ... Injuries to center Eric Wood and right tackle Chris Hairston forced the Bills to use two offensive linemen who had never started an NFL game -- David Snow and Sam Young. ... Rams receiver/returner Danny Amendola missed his second straight game with a heel injury. .... St. Louis won for the first time in four games this season against AFC East opponents.