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When Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford was drafted first overall by the St. Louis Rams in 2010, those who believed Bradford was worthy of that selection figured he’d put together dozens of performances like the one he had Monday night.
Instead, it took seven years for Bradford to give us a truly special outing. In his 79th NFL start Monday against the New Orleans Saints, Bradford—two months shy of his 30th birthday—played by far the best game of his NFL career.
The Oklahoma product completed all but five of 32 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a turnover-free effort as the Vikes easily disposed of the Saints and their future Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees.
He completed eight passes of 20-plus yards and was 8-for-9 on throws that traveled 15 yards or more, out-dueling Brees for four quarters in a 29-19 victory. And those numbers would have looked even better had two of his five incomplete passes not been dropped.
Does that mean Bradford has suddenly become a star? Of course not. It’s important to note he’s typically been a strong starter, and that he also torched the Green Bay Packers in his Vikings debut last September (which had yours truly singing his praises). He didn’t throw an interception until Week 6 last year, and he was the league’s third-highest-rated passer up to that point.
Bradford couldn’t sustain that, but it’s not as though he was a liability the rest of the year. The guy finished the season with the highest qualified completion percentage in NFL history (71.6), but he couldn’t overcome a lack of support from a bad, banged-up offensive line and a nonexistent running game.
And while he also can’t be expected to sustain the pace he set with a 143.0 passer rating Monday night against New Orleans, the circumstances are quite different for Bradford and that Minnesota offense this season.
The offensive line was a mess in 2016, and they were about as balanced as a drunk sheep on ice skates. Left tackle Matt Kalil missed all but two games, right tackle Andre Smith sat out all but four and their replacements struggled. Running back Adrian Peterson also had trouble before missing the final 13 games of the year, and his replacements—mainly Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata—were astonishingly ineffective.
It was enough for us to ask in November if the Vikes had the worst running game in NFL history. That unit averaged a league-low 75.3 rush yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry, making it difficult for Bradford to stretch the field.
But the front office invested heavily in the offense in the offseason, giving Bradford three new starters along the line and two new running backs. They spent a combined $28 million in guaranteed cash on new bookend tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, committed another $15 million to veteran back Latavius Murray’s new contract and used their top two draft picks on running back Dalvin Cook and center Pat Elflein.
Reiff, Remmers and Cook were fantastic on Monday. Bradford was sacked just once and kept clean most of the night, while Cook compiled 137 scrimmage yards on 25 touches.
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Dalvin Cook just broke Adrian Peterson’s record for rushing yards by a Vikings rookie in his debut. And he did it right in front of AP too.
“I had all the time in the world back there,” Bradford told ESPN’s Lisa Salters on the field after the victory. “When they play like that it makes my job easy. Our guys out wide did a great job of getting open and were were able to run the ball, but tonight it really all started out front. I think the game ball should go to our offensive line because those guys played fantastic.”
The entire performance came at home against a defense that surrendered the most points in football in 2015 before giving up the second-highest point total in the league in 2016. So nobody will blame you for wanting to see Bradford and Co. do something similar against stronger competition. And we’ll have that opportunity when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in Week 2.
Don’t be surprised if he delivers. He’s got everything going for him right now, and there were clues late last year—when Bradford lit up the Packers and Bears in Weeks 16 and 17—that he had a chance to turn his career around.
|Sam Bradford’s last three games|
|Dating back to Week 16 of last season (Pro Football Reference)|
So it’s at least fair to conclude that if that line can remain healthy and Cook and Murray can continue to provide an upgrade over McKinnon and Asiata, Bradford could be in for a career year.
And if he, his line and his running game are there for a defense that hasn’t missed a beat after bringing back all five of its Pro Bowlers from 2016, the Vikings could be nearly impossible to beat in 2017.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.