NASHVILLE – Expect Sam Bradford to start Sunday night’s prime-time home opener against the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
That, after all, has been part of the Vikings’ original plan since the General Manager Rick Spielman traded for Bradford on Sept. 3, eight days before the regular season started and four days after Teddy Bridgewater went down to a season-ending knee injury.
But didn’t Shaun Hill just win the 17th game of his career Sunday? Didn’t he just help beat the Titans 25-16 at Nissan Stadium with a gutsy, turnover-free effort in his first start since 2014?
Yes. But … actually, make that four big buts.
Bradford is indisputably the better quarterback. By Sunday, he will have had two weeks to prepare. He cost Spielman a first-round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder, so tick-tock, folks. And, not least of all, the Packers are infinitely more of a challenge than a Titans team that is 5-28 the past three years. A Titans team, by the way, that hasn’t beaten anyone at home but Jacksonville the past three years.
What Hill did Sunday was do what he’s done for most of his 15-year career. He was a temporary tourniquet in a bloody situation.
Bradford couldn’t start the opener for a new NFL team on five practices. Nor was there an urgent need for him to do so with the Titans first up on the schedule. Defense, Adrian Peterson and a ball-secure QB were supposed to buy time for Bradford.
Peterson’s 1.6-yard average on 19 carries behind a revamped line was the day’s biggest disappointment by far. But coach Mike Zimmer’s defense turned a 10-0 halftime deficit into a 16-point runaway when defenders Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter scored five minutes apart in the second half.
“I thought Shaun did well,” Zimmer said. “One of the things I told him going into the ballgame was, ‘You don’t have to be anybody else. You just have to be yourself, and that’s good enough to win. Take care of the football. Make the right plays.’
“And I think Sam’s done a nice job getting ready as well. We’ll take it one week at a time and see where it takes us.”
Zimmer said the coaches will huddle Monday to start deciding who will start against Green Bay. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has compared Bradford to some of the smartest quarterbacks he’s ever coached, is convinced Bradford can be ready.
Hill completed 18 of 33 passes for 236 yards and no touchdowns Sunday. He connected with Stefon Diggs seven times for 103 yards. He completed six of 10 third-down passes for 112 yards and five first downs. He hit Adam Thielen for 16 yards on third-and-15 with the score 12-10 early in the fourth quarter. He also hit Diggs for 13 yards on third-and-10.
“I did what I came here to do, which was be one-53rd part of [the players] getting a ‘W,’ ” Hill said. “What happens after that, it’s not up to me. I’m just going to continue being the same guy every day, no matter what.”
There’s another reason to start Bradford. Hill is old (36) and injury-prone by NFL standards. He took a lot of hard hits Sunday, and the Vikings have only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. So Hill shouldn’t be exposed to more punishment, even though he said he enjoyed the hits because “I feel alive!”
When Hill says he won’t be offended if Bradford starts next week, one gets the strong sense he means it. Remember where this guy came from. As an undrafted rookie in 2002, he spent four seasons with the Vikings and left with only two kneel-downs in the 2005 season finale on his résumé.
“These games are funny,” Hill said. “You never know how it’s going to play out.”
Chances are Hill will be needed again at some point this season. But Sunday night against Green Bay, at this point, isn’t part of the plan.
Mark Craig covers the NFL and the Vikings for the Star Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org