Sam Bradford’s first two years playing professional football were a tale of two seasons.
The young quarterback began his career in impressive fashion in 2010, leading the upstart Rams to a 7-9 record and finishing the season one win away from a postseason berth. That season he completed 60 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. For his efforts Bradford won the award for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
In 2011, Bradford experienced the downs associated with playing quarterback in the NFL. Behind a patchwork offensive line Bradford was often under siege, completing just 54 percent of his passes and compiling just a 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Bradford led the Rams to just one win with him under center; he missed six games with an ankle injury, including the team’s last three.
This year, the former No. 1 overall draft pick is out to prove 2011 was the exception and not the rule. Bradford has completed 71 percent of his passes through two games while throwing four touchdowns to just one interception. Bradford and the Rams took a step forward on Sunday when they battled through questionable officiating, the RGIII hype machine and a feisty Washington Redskins team to preserve a 31-28 win in their home opener. Bradford chose a good day to have arguably his best game as a pro.
“He was dialed in all week and certainly dialed in today,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said after Sunday’s game. “He and ‘Schotty’ (Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer) were on the same page. This was a difficult defense. Coach (Redskins Defensive Coordinator Jim) Haslett does a lot of different things. Sam had some answers.”
The answers came at a time when the questions were becoming more and more audible. Bradford’s detractors in St. Louis point to the $50 million in guaranteed money he’ll be paid over the course of his contract and his subpar 2011 in an attempt to label the 24-year old a bust. Some even called for the Rams to draft Robert Griffin III – the quarterback he defeated on Sunday – when the Rams held the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft.
Despite the comparisons, real or perceived, Bradford said he didn’t take Sunday’s matchup any more personal than any other.
“I go about it the same each week,” Bradford said. “I need to play at a high level, play my best to give this team a chance to win and I think I did that today.”
With the NFL becoming a pass-first league, Bradford’s success this year will often be the team’s success as well. His schedule doesn’t get any easier – this week the Rams travel to Chicago where Bradford will have to face the notoriously stout Bears defense – but Bradford displayed Sunday that he’s got a few moves of his own for opposing defenses.
“Sam’s played two pretty good ballgames against two difficult defenses,” Fisher said. “Sam can put things behind him. He was really frustrated with the interception, but again, came right back and takes care of that with another touchdown pass. But he’s got a good sense for what he’s doing and I think this team’s only going to get better.”
To borrow another line from Dickens, Bradford’s third year is shaping up to be the best of times for the Rams.