It wasn’t a perfect night for the veteran quarterback acquired 15 days before his first action in Norv Turner’s offense, but Bradford showed moxie in the pocket and delivered many of the game’s biggest offensive plays while outdoing former NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers in the Vikings’ 17-14 win at the first regular-season game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It’s a big credit to a guy who has come in here 15 days or whatever it was and he’s learned enough of the offense to come in and perform against a team that’s pressuring and blitzing and attacking him as much as they did,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. “It was a good win.”
Bradford completed 22 of 31 passes – two more completions than Rodgers in five fewer attempts – for 286 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He ended with a 121.2 passer rating, the fifth-best for a Vikings quarterback making his first start.
Bradford was pressured often and took a hit to his left (non-throwing) hand that required a quick X-ray, but he didn’t miss a snap.
“Sam did great and showed a ton of poise. Obviously, he was under a little bit of pressure but he made so many great throws under pressure and getting hit, showed a lot of toughness,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. “For us, only knowing him for two weeks, we know a little bit about Sam from playing against him and seeing him in the league, but to kind of have him in your team now and bring him in around the circle and say, ‘Hey, he is our quarterback,’ that’s just the circumstances we were dealt. He’s our quarterback now and he’s going to be one of us.”
Bradford’s 286 yards were the best for a Vikings quarterback making his first start, but he endured four sacks and other big hits in the process.
“He can throw the ball,” Zimmer said. “He’s got some toughness about him. This isn’t his first rodeo, so he’s had opportunities to get in there and continue to go. He was pretty composed all night and on the sideline as far as when I talked to him and things like that. It was a good start.”
With a running game that was balky at best for the second straight game, and then without Adrian Peterson after he left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter, Bradford didn’t simply settle for the quick, short passes. He drove the ball downfield and put pressure on the Packers defense.
His four longest pass plays were all to Stefon Diggs.
“Diggs did a great job tonight,” Bradford said. “He’s just kind of one of those guys. When I first got here and started watching tape, he just kind of popped. You just kind of notice him. He’s always getting separation; he seems to always be finding a way to get open. Then tonight, he was pretty much unstoppable out there tonight.”
Diggs finished the game with nine catches for 182 yards and one touchdown.
He was targeted more than 15 yards downfield on two of Bradford’s biggest pass plays – a 44-yarder in the second quarter and a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Bradford had four passes that resulted in gains of 25 yards or more. His first touchdown went to tight end Kyle Rudolph, who gave the ball to Bradford.
“It doesn’t say a whole lot about us; it is all about Sam,” Rudolph said. “What he has been able to do over the past two weeks is unbelievable. I have never seen it before. The last time I was around a quarterback with two weeks of preparation was the Monday night football disaster (with Josh Freeman). So what Bradford was able to do here in two weeks, grasp the offense and his ability to learn is unbelievable.”
Said Zimmer: “I was impressed with pretty much everything he did (Sunday night). I thought he had great composure.”