PHILADELPHIA – During Sam Bradford’s return to Philadelphia, he found himself booed, battered, wind-blown, sacked, stripped of the ball and at least temporarily excommunicated from his instant football sainthood.
He proved that you can go home again; you just might not remain upright.
The Vikings suffered what these days we like to call total system failure Sunday in a 21-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. They faltered on special teams, offense and on the sideline, with the most egregious mistakes tenderizing Bradford’s ribs and softening expectations for the Vikings’ season.
Bradford’s blockers will receive most of the blame for Bradford’s first poor game in purple, and they should. But Bradford did little to help.
He missed open receivers and showed poor pocket awareness. He looked spooked even when there were no ghosts. From the second half of the victory in Carolina up until kickoff on Sunday, Bradford had managed pressure well, beating blitzes with quick passes and decisions.
Whatever his previous reputation, Bradford has proved in Minnesota that he is willing to take a hit while making a play. Sunday, he was too willing to take a hit while putting the ball at risk. He fumbled four times, lost two and threw one interception.
“I think I just have to be better about keeping two hands on the ball in the pocket,” he said. “Especially in traffic, when there are people around.”
His overall numbers were not bad, providing the latest evidence that uncontextualized statistics can’t be trusted. He completed 24 of 41 passes for 224 yards and one touchdown. He had spoiled the Vikings with zero turnovers in his first four games. That streak was not meant to last but shouldn’t have turned this game into something resembling soccer.
Bradford was sacked six times. According to Pro Football Focus, Bradford’s passer rating under pressure entering the game was 108; in this one it was 16.4.
“I’ve got to figure out a way to get it out quicker,” Bradford said. “We’ve got to do a better job with staying on guys [blocking]. I think there are a lot of answers to that problem.”
Neither Bradford nor his teammates were willing to say he was nervous, but he played like he was. Lincoln Financial Field is loud and the crowd is often abusive. Bradford not only failed to win big in Philadelphia, he requested a trade when the Eagles drafted North Dakota State product Carson Wentz.
This had to be the last place he wanted to play a football game this season, and it showed.
“I don’t really have any bitter feelings towards Philly,” Bradford said. “So, it’s not like I was harboring any of that and trying to come out here and prove them wrong. I was just trying to help the guys in this locker room go and get a win.”
For all of the ugliness on display Sunday afternoon, the most important moment of the game for the Vikings might have arrived during their last drive. The score was 21-3. The Vikings had no way to win or tie. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer kept Bradford in the game.
Bradford took a couple of big hits, and after one he lay on the turf, as backup Shaun Hill started trotting onto the field.
Bradford got up, gathered himself, and threw a touchdown on his last pass.
Did Zimmer consider pulling Bradford? “No,” he said.
Is that his general philosophy or was it a situational decision? Zimmer took a while to answer, then said: “I’m not going to pull guys. I want them to learn how to fight under pressure. So you know what? Stay in there and fight. Get the guys to block for you, and let’s go. So that is not my mentality.”
Zimmer’s tough-love coaching is one big reason the Vikings are 5-1, but if he gets this quarterback hurt, he will be watching Hill play in December, and he will be hunting come January. Sometimes discretion is the better part of coaching.