In the week leading up to last night’s 20-17 win over the Chicago Bears, speculation was rife with hot takes on injured QB Sam Bradford, and whether or not he should start. Once the Vikings began practicing midweek, Bradford was seen running with the first team offense, and things began to ramp up that he would play. A couple of reports and tweets the day before confirmed it, and lo and behold, Sam Bradford did in fact start last night, as we all know.
But should he have started?
In retrospect, it’s easy to say ‘no’, looking at his pretty dismal performance. Bradford was pulled late in the second quarter in favor of Case Keenum, and the results after halftime were night and day. Keenum led the offense on back to back touchdown drives to open the second half, and the Bears needed witchcraft, voodoo, and some trickeration to scratch back to a 17-17 tie in the fourth quarter. After a late turnover by Mitchell ‘Jon Gruden thinks I’m Joe Montana’ Trubisky, Keenum got the offense in position to kick a game winning field goal with 12 seconds left to escape Chicago with a win.
It shouldn’t have been that difficult a win for the Vikings, but to me, based on the information provided, starting Bradford was a no-brainer. In his post game press conference, Zimmer was asked about it, and addressed the issue. Some tweets from a couple Vikings beat reporters covering the post game press conference, Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune and Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press:
Mike zimmer said there was no doubt all week Bradford would play— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) October 10, 2017
Mike zimmer said Vikings limited Bradford in practice on purpose— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) October 10, 2017
Mike zimmer said medically Bradford fine to play— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) October 10, 2017
Zimmer on Bradford: "I don't think there was any doubt whatsoever he was ready to go."— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) October 10, 2017
Zimmer: "We wouldn't get him on the field if he wasn't healthy enough to play. He felt good about it. The medical people felt good about it"— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) October 10, 2017
You have the player, and the team medical staff saying they felt good with him playing. And to further hedge their bets, the Vikings put a practice plan in place to limit him, presumably in an attempt to keep the knee as rested as possible. This seems like a completely reasonable and sound plan to get him back on the field, and bothing that leads me to think the Vikings were pushing Bradford to play before he was ready.
Some of the questions I’ve seen on Twitter are along the lines of ‘well how can they say he was medically cleared, because he looked terrible?’ Yeah, he did, but looking at an injury in a controlled environment, like practice or a training table, isn’t the same as playing in a game. Everything is ramped up, and although it seems like on the surface the knee can withstand game conditions, until the player actually tries it out, you don’t really know.
So no, based on all of the above information, I have no problem with the Vikings going with Sam. The thinking was probably something along the lines of Sam being anywhere from 75-80%, and Sam Bradford at 80% is better than any other QB on the roster.
Only he wasn’t really at 80%. He looked to be more like 50%, at best.
Once that became apparent, my only beef was the Vikings staying with him for as long as they did. On the first drive, he went 0-3, and missed a couple easy throws. It’s easy to say, as a fan and as a coach, that it’s going to take a drive or two to knock some rust off and get his timing back, so okay, fine. Go get ‘em next drive.
On the second drive, the Vikings tried to run the ball, with little effectiveness, and then try a short pass on third down, which Bradford again missed high and away. The Vikings were backed up deep in their own end, so while it was a frustrating sequence of plays, I still wasn’t overly concerned. They were being conservative, deep in their end, with a QB still trying to get his timing back.
It was the third drive that everyone thought something was amiss, and Bradford should have been pulled. Again, pinned deep in their own end, Bradford took the snap and loitered in the end zone for a full five seconds before taking a sack. Safety, Bears up 2-0. Sam seemed really hesitant in the pocket, and unsure what to do. It appeared he could’ve stepped up in the pocket, but didn’t, and took the sack. I could see an argument for him getting pulled there, but I was still willing to give him one more shot.
For me, it was the next drive. On 2nd and 6 from the Vikings 24, Bradford dropped back to pass. WR Stefon Diggs had split two defenders deep and the table was set for a really big play. Week one Sam Bradford makes that throw in his sleep, but Monday Night Sam Bradford couldn’t. He got a lot of air under the ball, underthrew Diggs, and instead of a big completion, it was actually closer to an interception. He had little to no ability to set and push off with his knee, and after that throw, it was apparent that he was hurting the team more than he was helping, and it was an issue that was bigger than ‘being rusty’. Later, on two of the four sacks he took, Bradford just basically took a dive to avoid taking a hit. 2016 and week one Bradford stands in the pocket, delivers the ball, and takes the shot. Monday Night Bradford hit the turf to keep from his knee being injured further.
Keeping him in after that drive was a bad call by the coaching staff. When the Vikings got the ball back after the drive where he missed Diggs deep, there was still four and a half minutes on the clock, and Bradford trotted back out. Given what Case Keenum was able to do early in the second half, it’s not unreasonable to think that he could have generated a scoring drive before halftime. Instead, the Vikings punted, and were it not for a fantastic strip sack by Everson Griffen that the Vikings recovered deep in Bears territory, they were looking at a 2-0 deficit heading in to the locker room.
How does this all play out moving forward? I don’t know, but after watching Sam struggle, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to be game ready until after the bye week, minimum. And by then, Teddy Bridgewater will be on the active roster.
Should Sam Bradford have started last night?
This poll is closed