After throwing for more yards than any NFC quarterback in Week 1 of the NFL season, quarterback Sam Bradford earned NFC Player of the Week honors, becoming the first Minnesota Vikings player to do it since Stefon Diggs when he won the award after last season’s home opener against the Green Bay Packers.
It was a magnificent season debut for Sam Bradford, who also excelled in his Vikings debut last year with 286 yards and two touchdowns in U.S. Bank Stadium’s regular season christening.
But Monday’s performance might have been his best with the Vikings, if not in his entire career.
Bradford led all Week 1 quarterbacks in completion percentage, as well as yards per attempt. A year ago he led all quarterbacks in the former, but was 19th in the latter, often settling for shorter passes or check downs.
That wasn’t the case against the Saints as Bradford completed 10 explosive passes for 10 yards or more. In fact, those 10 passes went for an average of 24.7 yards per completion.
Bradford amassed 256 yards between the second and third quarters alone, and if the Vikings had needed to throw the ball late in the game, he may have surpassed 400 yards for the first time in his career.
“The guy that the world saw on Monday is the guy that we get to see every day in practice,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “He’s as accurate as anyone I’ve ever been around.”
Of course, Bradford got help from his receivers along the way. Adam Thielen made a couple nice adjustments on the run, and Stefon Diggs made three grabs that a lesser receiver probably wouldn’t have had a chance to make — but that’s nitpicking. Even on Diggs’ catches, Bradford generally threw to safe spots where the ball would either be caught or incomplete and hardly made a dangerous throw all game.
His best throws actually threw receivers open, so to speak. And it’s quite possible his two best throws occurred when he absorbed contact.
On the Vikings three-play scoring drive in the second quarter, Bradford hit Jarius Wright for a 21-yard gain while getting buried by Cameron Jordan. Wright, running a corner route out of the left slot position, was covered up on the front side by P.J. Williams and on the back side by safety Marcus Williams, but Bradford managed to hit the open window — well, really more like a sliver.
“It was man, and that’s a play that we kind of put in for that coverage,” said Bradford. “It’s a route that we feel like Jarius runs really well. Those Deep 2s are something that he’s gotten open quite frequently when he runs, and so we got the look we wanted, Jarius did a great job winning and made a nice catch.”
Later in the third quarter, Bradford faced extra pressure on a 3rd-and-6 at his own 36-yard line. A.J. Klein blitzed around Nick Easton, who was occupied, and nailed Bradford, who managed to fire a laser to Thielen as he cut for the right sideline against P.J. Williams.
“If Sam didn’t display his toughness all year last year,” said Rudolph, “then I don’t know if you’re going to find a guy that went through what he did last year and picked himself up every single time.”
Bradford also connected on third downs as the Vikings finished 9-of-14 for the game. Minnesota had six conversions through the air, including two of Bradford’s three touchdowns. As we covered during training camp, Bradford struggled last season with third-down passing, making Monday’s performance even more encouraging.
“I think those guys up front, they did a great job of giving me time back there,” said Bradford. “They did a great job in their blitz pickup and keeping the pocket clean, and then the guys outside won, but I really think it all started with those guys up front.”
Always quick to deflect praise, Bradford was quick to downplay his player-of-the-week accolade.
“If you get named, that obviously means you played well and helped your team win,” said Bradford, “but I think the win and starting the season 1-0, that was the biggest thing of the week.”