Since the retirement of Fran Tarkenton in 1978, there has been an uneasiness about the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings for most of my life, save an occasional season here an there. That uneasiness was a thing of the past, it was thought, when the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater in 2014.
The uneasiness returned in waves after Teddy’s knee injury and subsequent trade for Sam Bradford right before the season opener last year. And all though last year, although Sam Bradford had some good games, notably in his debut against Green Bay in the US Bank Stadium opener, that uneasiness didn’t go away. Between Teddy’s rehab and an off-season full of questions, both about Bradford and the offense, there were a lot of unknowns towards both heading into last night's game.
There are 15 games to go, and a lot of football to be played, but last night Sam Bradford went a long way to wash away a lot of that uneasiness. Let’s look at some of the big knocks on Sam, and how he purified himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka:
Checkdown Sam: This was probably his biggest knock. Detractors were quick to point out that Bradford’s high completion percentage was balanced against a yards per attempt average that was very average to subpar. Supporters would point out he had virtually no time to throw, and with a competent offensive line, that would change. Last night, with a new line that was giving him great protection, he started out with short throws downfield, and there was a bit of uneasiness towards the game. But on the Vikings third drive, Bradford started airing it out, orchestrating a three play TD drive consisting of throws of 35, 21, and 18 yards. He didn’t stop until he had 346 yards, 3 TD’s, and an average yards per attempt of 10.8, an eye popping number.
He’s not an emotional leader: Since he was the number one overall pick by the Rams in the 2010 draft, Bradford has a reputation as a guy that doesn’t show a lot of emotion on the field. Yeah, last night he was yelling, slapping helmets, and high-fiving everyone. it was the most emotion I had ever seen from Bradford, who finally looked comfortable in a Vikings uniform running the Vikings offense. I don’t know that I would go as far as saying he was exorcising a lot of demons last night, but it felt like he did go a long way in answering the quarterback question once and for all.
He’s not clutch: When most people think of a quarterback performing in the clutch, they think about game winning drives in the 4th quarter. Yet, it’s just as important being able to run an offense that can take a lead and put teams away in the fourth quarter, so a come from behind win isn’t required. Last night, Bradford and the Vikings offense did just that. Late in the 3rd quarter, the Saints had closed to 10 points, and got back into the game with a nice drive for a field goal. The Saints have Drew Brees, and a three and out followed by a Saints TD would have made a lot of people uncomfortable.
On the ensuing drive, a three and out looked entirely possible, and you could feel just how big this drive was. A punt here gives the Saints great field position, and either a TD or a field goal makes it a one score game. Facing a 3rd and 9 from their own 12 after an incompletion and a one yard run, Bradford delivered a 27 yard seed to Adam Thielen for a first down out to the 39. After five straight runs, the Vikings were facing third and 9 from the 15. A field goal still gives the Saints life here, but a touchdown pretty much ends the game, barring a remarkable reversal of fortune. Bradford finds Kyle Rudolph for the TD, the score is now 26-9, and for all intents and purposes this game is over. Clutch.
It was just the Saints: This is the excuse people throw out when there are no more excuses, ‘well it was just ______.’ If you are a good team in the NFL, or want to be a good team, you should soundly beat teams you are better than on paper. Too many times in my life I have watched an on-paper superior Vikings team play down to the level of their competition, and either squeak out a closer than it should have been win, or more often, watch them lose in agonizing fashion.
But not last night. Last night, once the Vikings got the Saints down, they kept them down and didn’t let them back in to the game, and Sam Bradford had a lot to do with that. He made clutch throws to keep drives alive, finished those drives with touchdowns and not field goals, and it never really felt to me like the Saints were in the game, or had a realistic chance to come back and win.
Look, I love Teddy. Heck, I even started The Bridgewater Undeground stories, and no one wants to see him play more than I do. But I also recognize a great performance when I see it, and Sam Bradford played like a top five NFL quarterback last night. Granted, it’s only one game, and there’s a lot of football left to play, but if this becomes the norm for Bradford and the offense, there is no more quarterback controversy in Minnesota.