With all the setbacks and obstacles the Minnesota Vikings have overcome, it is little wonder that Mike Zimmer had some high praise for quarterback Sam Bradford, one of the few consistent positives for the offense.
Bradford came to the Vikings eight days before the regular-season opener and started in Week 2, a win against the Green Bay Packers. The Vikings started the season 5-0 but have lost eight of the last 10 and fallen out of playoff contention. Yet, Bradford has remained healthy enough to play every game since, despite taking a lot of hits behind a makeshift offensive line.
“If you sat back and looked at all the things - being traded, trying to learn a new system, having a new coach, having to learn teammates - all these things that he’s had to deal with, injuries on offense – I thought he’s done an unbelievable job,” Zimmer said. “He’s got a chance to break an NFL record for completion percentage. His quarterback rating is the highest it’s been in his career. Maybe this is the best year he’s ever had. If you put all those together and look at the things he’s had to deal with, I think he’s been amazing.”
It’s hard to argue.
Yes, the Vikings have majored in a short passing game, but Bradford has been on point when given enough time to throw deep to his receivers. He is one-tenth of a percentage point ahead of Drew Brees’ 71.2 NFL-record completion percentage from 2011.
Bradford likely will finish the season with the second-most attempts of his career, already has the most completions (370) of his career and needs 99 yards to have the most yards of his career. His 98.3 rating is also the best of his career.
“It was kind of a quick transition, him getting here and getting up to speed and we’ve all seen what his talent level is and I think hopefully just another year in this system, with these players, his teammates and whoever new we add and you just try to be one year better,” interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said.
One of the reasons the Vikings traded for Bradford was his familiarity with Shurmur, who was promoted to interim offensive coordinator when Norv Turner resigned on Nov. 1. Another reason was that Bradford had two years remaining on his contract, putting him in the Vikings’ control for 2017, a year in which there will be uncertainty about Teddy Bridgewater’s return to health after suffering multiple ligament tears in his knee on Aug. 30.
With another year in the system, assuming Shurmur is given the offensive coordinator role on a full-time basis, the Vikings expect Bradford will be even better in 2017.
“When you bring a free agent in, typically they’re a lot better their second year than their first year. You can go through a lot of the guys that we have on this team that were free agents and in their second year they played much, much better than they did the first year,” Zimmer said. “Because they get more comfortable in the system, they understand things more, they understand how we do things.”
Bradford said the transition to the Vikings has been a good and quick one. He was made to feel comfortable with his teammates quickly and gradually assumed more of a leadership role as he became more comfortable with the coaching staff and the players surrounding him.
“I’m not sure if there was one moment where I was like, ‘Man, I finally feel like myself and feel comfortable.’ I think it just kind of happened over time,” he said. “I think any relationship, all relationships, they take time to develop. You have to spend time with each other. You have to communicate. And so, I think just being around the building, being in the huddle, going out there and playing on Sundays with those guys, that’s when you learn a lot about each other, and I think each week, it just kind of continued to grow.”
If it continues to grow in 2017 with upgrades surrounding Bradford, the Vikings have a good shot to get back on a winning track and put the turmoil of 2016 behind them.