After the win against San Francisco, I would have expected numerous positive tweets and message board posts about Bradford’s play in the game. However, I saw something entirely different. The STLtoday Rams board was full of negative Bradford posts. People on twitter were wondering about the lack of touchdowns. Other fans saw Russell Wilson throw a touchdown pass to win the game, they saw Andrew Luck throw a touchdown pass to win a game and they saw Robert Griffin III hailed as the next big thing on Monday night football (notwithstanding his college offense and non-impressive throwing stats). Those fans were asking why Bradford couldn’t throw a touchdown pass in the game, or why he couldn’t be the hero in the spotlight as opposed to the kicker.
This article is directed at those fans that are disillusioned, disappointed or even angry regarding Sam Bradford’s play. Last week, I asked for perspective. I noted all of the issues, in detail, that are holding back Sam Bradford. This week, I intend to illustrate how the Arizona game and more specifically the San Francisco game are signs of tremendous improvement and growth for Sam Bradford.
One of the biggest issues/excuses for Sam Bradford in the past was the lack of any truly elite targets on the team. The argument was he can’t play well because his wide receivers, tight ends, and/or running backs cannot do what they need to do for him to succeed. His detractors argued that Bradford should make the players around him better. I tended to argue against that point because there is very little you can do when they can’t get open, they drop the ball at crucial times, or they are not where they are supposed to be.
The San Francisco game has ended the argument.
Sam Bradford is learning to play well even without exceptional talent. He had the drops in the game. He had receivers that couldn’t get open. He had many other excuses. Nevertheless, Sam Bradford did what elite quarterbacks do. He overcame the negative and performed when necessary to win the game.
Yes, the Rams won the game because the defense was exceptional and the spotlight was on the kicker when we tied the game and won the game. However, we also won the game because Sam Bradford overcame all of the following to lead the game tying and game winning drive:
1. His best wide receiver and safety blanket was out;
2. Brandon Gibson was worthless;
3. His receivers dropped 5 clearly catchable passes
4. 3 of those drops were on third down
5. Sam did everything he was asked to do to get a first down in overtime and his receiver (Brian Quick) ran a 3 and ½ yard route on 3rd and 4.
6. He had only one legitimate option to throw to on the last drive for a first down on 3rd and 4.
Fact number 6 may need some discussion. I am arguing that Sam Bradford is responsible for the game winning drive in overtime. Some may say, “What? Steven Jackson had the ball for 5 of the 6 plays”. Yes, but the drive would have ended, but for Sam Bradford’s six yard completion to Chris Givens. Yes, one pass, but look at the conditions. He couldn’t throw to Kendricks who had dropped the last pass thrown his way and dropped another easy pass earlier in the game. He couldn’t throw to Quick who just screwed up the last drive. He couldn’t throw to Steve Smith who dropped a third down pass earlier in the game. He couldn’t throw to Gibson, because Gibson can’t consistently get open and has failed to catch balls earlier this year when covered tightly on drive ending downs. Thus, Sam had only one option and that option was a rookie. The rookie barely got open and Sam threw a perfect pass. No one can minimize the significance of that pass in that situation.
Another huge sign of growth for Sam Bradford is: he won a game without Danny Amendola and had historic numbers, when compared to prior games where Bradford did not have Amendola as an option. How important is Danny Amendola? Take a look at this chart:
SB with Amendola
SB w/o Amendola
Sam wins 13% of the games when Danny Amendola does not play. He won this game without Danny Amendola against our biggest rival who just so happens to have the 2nd best overall defense in the league. Bradford also completed 66% of his passes and had a quarterback rating of 81.2 without Danny Amendola. Compared to prior results those are historic numbers. Please also remember that the completion percentage includes five drops and one spike. In reality, he threw 31 passes that should have been caught out of a 38 attempts which is an 82% completion percentage.
For purposes of the chart above, I did not include the game against Arizona last week. Why? Danny Amendola was hurt, but he played. Thus, where does it fall? Also, one of the two wins without Danny Amendola came against Arizona in Game 5 this year. Should Arizona even be considered a legitimate win given their problems this year? Moreover, I think the Arizona game is another sign of growth for Bradford. Bradford had a tremendous game with his best yard per attempt average of his career and a 106.2 quarterback rating.
Finally, the San Francisco game is further evidence that Sam Bradford is making the talent around him better. Kendricks and Pettis are getting better. Givens is showing rare growth for a rookie wide receiver. Amendola, when he is healthy, is putting up numbers far beyond anything he did previously.
Given all of this, the San Francisco game is in the top five games for Sam Bradford in the pros. For him to win that game with all of the negatives mentioned above was truly the action of an elite quarterback.