Vik­ings’ Brad­ford calmly eyes game with Ea­gles

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Dave Camp­bell AP Pro Foot­ball Writer

The com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment of the NFL and plain old hu­man na­ture usu­ally trig­ger an ex­tra in­jec­tion of mo­ti­va­tion for play­ers fac­ing their for­mer teams.

That’s par­tic­u­larly true after they’ve been traded or re­leased.

Sam Brad­ford has no rea­son to be in­se­cure about play­ing at Philadel­phia this week­end. His new team in Min­nesota has the last per­fect record left in the league, and some of the best per­for­mances of his seven-year ca­reer have been on dis­play over four starts with the Vik­ings.

“My ap­proach is just try to keep it as nor­mal as pos­si­ble this week. I think I owe it to all of the guys in our locker room to not try and do any­thing special, not try to do any­thing ex­tra,” Brad­ford said. “When you get caught up with things out­side of foot­ball, that’s when things can go wrong.”

The Vik­ings (5-0) paid a steep price for Brad­ford on Sept. 3. They sent their 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 se­lec­tion that will range from the se­cond to the fourth round to the Ea­gles four days after orig­i­nal quar­ter­back Teddy Bridge­wa­ter went down with a mas­sive knee in­jury.

The re­turn on the deal couldn’t have bet­ter so far, with Brad­ford lead­ing the NFL with a 70.4 com­ple­tion per­cent­age, rank­ing se­cond with a 109.8 passer rat­ing, and tak­ing his first 249 snaps with­out a turnover.

“It’s like when you go to a new job, the first day you don’t know any­body, you’ve got to learn every­thing,” Vik­ings coach Mike Zim­mer said. “The pro­tec­tions are dif­fer­ent, the ter­mi­nol­ogy is dif­fer­ent, the com­bi­na­tions, the play­ers are dif­fer­ent . ... For him to be able to do the things he’s done, I think he’s done a great job.”

The suc­cess hasn’t ex­actly caught the Ea­gles (32) by sur­prise. They were pre­pared to hand Brad­ford the keys to the of­fense for the se­cond straight sea­son, plan­ning to sit rookie Car­son Wentz for the whole year. Then the Vik­ings made the emer­gency call to try to keep their Su­per Bowl goal on track.

“I felt Sam was in a great spot with us of­fen­sively and was set to have a good sea­son, and I wasn’t go­ing to dis­rupt that if I didn’t have to,” new Ea­gles coach Doug Ped­er­son said, echo­ing Brad­ford.

“I was re­ally ex­cited about the year there,” Brad­ford said. “I felt like I had a re­ally good spring.”

Ped­er­son, a quar­ter­back him­self who lasted 12 sea­sons in the league and was hired to re­place Chip Kelly, had a mere 7½ months with Brad­ford, with­out any mean­ing­ful games. That was still enough time for a strong im­pres­sion to be made.

“He’s smart. He makes good, ac­cu­rate throws. He’s tough to de­fend that way,” Ped­er­son said. “I’ve al­ways said this as a for­mer quar­ter­back: It’s hard to de­fend the per­fect pass, and he knows how to put the per­fect pass out there.”

Skep­ti­cism has trailed Brad­ford since St. Louis took him in 2010 with the first over­all draft pick, and two ma­jor knee in­juries didn’t help his pro­file. He fin­ished 2015 on a rel­a­tively strong note, though, as he dis­tanced him­self from the one-year an­niver­sary of his most re­cent ACL re­con­struc­tion.

“This is the first full off­sea­son that he’s been healthy and he’s been able to get in the weight room and he’s been able to get stronger,” Ped­er­son said. “He’s throw­ing the ball with greater ac­cu­racy. The tim­ing of throws, just get­ting it out of his hand. I think all of that is part of his suc­cess.”

When the Ea­gles took Wentz with the se­cond se­lec­tion in the draft, Brad­ford be­came an ob­vi­ous short-timer even if he were to play the whole year with Philadel­phia. Wentz has started his ca­reer in im­pres­sive fash­ion, mak­ing this matchup all the more in­trigu­ing even if the prin­ci­pals aren’t buy­ing it.

“I did tell the team that this game is not about Brad­ford and Wentz,” Zim­mer said. “It’s about the Ea­gles and the Vik­ings.”

Brad­ford should have lead­ing wide re­ceiver Ste­fon Diggs back for Sun­day after he missed the pre­vi­ous game against Hous­ton be­cause of a groin in­jury. Diggs was a lim­ited par­tic­i­pant in prac­tice on Wed­nes­day. Right guard Bran­don Fusco, who de­parted the last game due to a con­cus­sion, took full part.

MATT ROURKE — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sam Brad­ford, then with the Ea­gles, walks off the field after a game against the Saints in Philadel­phia in Oc­to­ber 2015.

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