There wasn’t the slightest pause when Norv Turner was asked to pick one pass to best illustrate why Sam Bradford is defying rationale by leading the NFL in completion percentage while throwing to targets he met only seven weeks ago.
“In my mind, there is no question because it’s a highlight-reel throw, and it’s as good a throw as I’ve been around,” said the Vikings offensive coordinator. “It’s the touchdown to [Stefon] Diggs in the Green Bay game.”
The Vikings led 10-7 with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left in the third quarter of their Week 2 home opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. With Diggs wide right, Bradford dropped back from the Green Bay 25-yard line. The 28th pass of Bradford’s Vikings debut would be Turner’s wow moment.
“I’m not one for superlatives,” the 42-year coaching veteran said. “But that one was as good as it gets.”
Bradford dropped to the 34-yard line. Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels ran an inside-out stunt, looped around right guard Brandon Fusco and turned himself into a 6-foot, 310-pound projectile bound for Bradford’s front side.
Meanwhile, Diggs was beating cornerback Demarious Randall on a deep post route.
“Sam knew the route and exactly where he wanted to put the ball, which was over the top and in front of Diggs in a spot in the end zone,” said Vikings tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, who’s now on his third team with Bradford.
Bradford did just that. It goes down as a 25-yard touchdown pass, but the ball traveled 40 yards in the air. It took off from the 34-yard line and landed on Diggs’ fingertips 6 yards into the end zone.
Bradford didn’t see the landing. As soon as he released the ball, Daniels sent him hurtling through the air with a full two-forearm blast to the rib cage.
“He got whacked,” Shurmur said. “To be able to get the ball over the top and down in the red area like that is truly a great throw, but to do it with a guy coming at him like that is pretty special.”
Randall had tight coverage and undercut the route, perhaps anticipating an underthrow that would have been an easy interception.
“Sam’s getting hit, yet you can’t throw a more perfect pass,” Turner said. “And it’s not an 8-yard pass either.”
Bradford leads the NFL in completion percentage at 70.4 and is directing an offense that hasn’t turned the ball over all season. In four starts with the 5-0 Vikings, he’ll take the first four-game winning streak of his career to Philadelphia to face his former team Sunday.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson told Twin Cities reporters on Wednesday that the Bradford trade eight days before the opener was a “win-win” situation.
It brought the Eagles a first-round draft pick next year, a conditional fourth-rounder in 2018 and an opening for rookie No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz, who has played well during a 3-2 start.
But Pederson also said he isn’t surprised by Bradford’s success as Teddy Bridgewater’s 11th-hour replacement. He gave credit to the quarterback’s work ethic, talent and a return to full strength from two major knee injuries that wasn’t complete until midway through last season with the Eagles.
“I’ve always said this as a former quarterback: It’s hard to defend the perfect pass,” Pederson said. “Sam knows how to put the perfect pass out there.”
Bradford agreed with Pederson about healthy knees playing a role in his success and ability to make accurate throws from a sturdy base.
“Coming off the two knee injuries and not really having an offseason to prepare, I think last year, somewhere in the middle of the year is when my body felt great,” Bradford said. “I wasn’t thinking about my knee when I was on the field.”
Today, Bradford is flying nearly 10 percentage points above his career completion percentage (60.7) at a point when he’s still getting to know his receivers.
“There’s a lot that goes into accuracy, with vision being No. 1,” Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner said. “And Sam is really sound mechanically. He always gets his feet in the right spot. His release point is the same every time. If you’re consistent like that, the ball typically is going to end up where you want it to.”
And when pressure won’t allow him to set his feet, Bradford typically adjusts by aligning his shoulders to his target to maximize his elite arm strength. According to Pro Football Focus, Bradford has been pressured on 35.6 percent of his pass attempts — eighth most in the league — but still has a league-high 108.6 passer rating while under pressure.
Of course, an old-school guy like Norv didn’t need to check with Pro Football Focus to grade what ended up being the winning throw to Diggs against the Packers.
“It was a pretty incredible play,” Turner said. “And those plays end up being the difference between winning and losing.”