As Eagles fans sat down for their Thanksgiving dinner after watching the debacle that was the loss in Detroit, we thought the worst: the locker room was lost, the team had quit, the season was over, and worst of all, we were in quarterback hell. Although Sam Bradford was out due to an injury for the two worst losses of the year at the hands of the Bucs and the Lions, his early season stats and performance did not point to him being the franchise quarterback the Eagles and fans had hoped. He was average at best through his first eight and a half games with 11 touchdowns to 10 interceptions while looking very uncomfortable in the offense. This harsh realization led all fans to question where Chip and the organization went wrong.
On March 10th, the Eagles traded Nick Foles and a second and conditional fourth round pick to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford and a fifth round pick. At the time of this trade, the Marcus Mariota talks were flying through Philadelphia and according to many media outlets, Chip Kelly wasn’t leaving the draft without Mariota, and Sam Bradford was the last piece of the puzzle. Until he wasn’t. It is uncertain what the Eagles offered, if anything at all, to the Titans for the number two overall pick in the draft, Chip’s old quarterback, Marcus Mariota. Regardless, the Eagles did not leave the draft with Mariota, and it looked as if there would be a quarterback competition between Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez heading into camp.
Coming off his second ACL surgery, Bradford could not fully participate in OTAs or the start of training camp and preseason. Bradford was in the facilities everyday that he was allowed to be, rehabbing and getting acclimated to the offense, his teammates, and Chip. Bradford had the advantage when coming to Philly of Pat Shurmur, his old offensive coordinator during his rookie year in St. Louis. Bradford was Rookie of the Year in 2010, and Shurmur seemed confident he could get Bradford back to playing at a high level in Chip’s system. Once Bradford was cleared to play, he took the reigns as starting quarterback and was receiving high praise from his teammates and coaches. During the preseason, Bradford and the offense looked electric. They were putting up points by the bunches, and Bradford looked to have a command of the offense. Although Bradford was supposedly offered a long term deal in the offseason, he decided to play out the final year on his deal this season. Expectations were high for Sam and the Birds this season.
Then, the first eight and a half games happened. Bradford was average, the team was 4-5 in games that Bradford started, and he was set to miss a couple weeks with a concussion and sprained non-throwing shoulder against Dolphins. The timing seemed to be horrible for Bradford, as he had had his best game of the season against the Cowboys in week 8 and was playing very well in the Miami game before he was injured. After the Eagles lost the next two weeks with Sanchez at the helm, the season seemed to be over and the Eagles seemed to be in need of a future quarterback. It didn’t seem to matter what Sam did in his return, it was time to start moving on.
Then the Eagles did what seemed to be impossible; they beat the Patriots in Foxboro when they were coming off a loss. Although Bradford had a decent game, it was the defense and special teams that led the Eagles to victory in New England. But Bradford had assumed a leadership role. He gave a pregame speech and led the Eagles on what should’ve been a game clinching drive with a huge third down throw to Cooper. With a huge fist pump from Sam after the completion, he looked like he was having fun again playing football, and for the first time this year he seemed comfortable on the field for an entire game. The hope for the season was suddenly alive again.
The Buffalo game at home was what Eagles fans hope was Bradford’s coming out party. It was his best game of the year. He finished the game 23 of 38 for 247 yards, a touchdown and a lone, controversial interception. He fired a 53-yard strike to Nelson Agholor for a touchdown in the second quarter which was his best throw of the season, while leading the offense to 20 first downs with 348 yards of total offense. Again, Sam took the leadership role for the Birds. It’s clear to everyone that Sam isn’t the biggest talker on the team, but Zach Ertz said it best “when he talks everyone listens, he’s becoming our leader.”
With three games left and the Eagles controlling their own destiny, Bradford is in control of his own destiny as well. If the Eagles beat the Redskins and the Giants in weeks 16 and 17, they will win the division (regardless of the outcome this weekend against the Cardinals), and host a home playoff game. Bradford can be a hero, saving this season from almost certain doom and bringing this team to the playoffs. Yes, it took a while for Bradford to get used to the offense and get comfortable in the system, but that’s generally the case with any new quarterback in any new system. If he’s figured it out, the Eagles might have just found their future quarterback. No matter what happens during these next three weeks and hopefully in the playoffs, it’s Sam’s world and we’re just living in it.