Talent has never been a question for Sam Bradford.
The same abilities that made the quarterback the number one overall pick in the 2010 draft were on full display in the Minnesota Vikings’ 29-19 win over New Orleans, in which he carved up the Saints in arguably the greatest performance of his career.
It may have been the zenith of what Bradford’s capable of, but it was also the latest in a long line of tantalising efforts that have teased, yet never fully satisfied his potential.
Maddeningly, these types of games by Bradford have been wildly inconsistent during his eight-year career, but not necessarily because of what he’s able to do, but rather what he chooses to do – throw safe, short passes.
Even in his first season with Minnesota last year when he set an NFL record by completing 71.6 per cent of his passes, Bradford averaged just 7.02 yards per attempt and an even worse 6.2 air yards per pass.
The quarterback who picked apart New Orleans on Monday was a far cry from ‘captain checkdown’, averaging 10.81 yards per attempt en route to totalling 346 yards and three touchdowns for a career-high passer rating of 143.0.
After being constantly hit and sacked 37 times last year (tied for fourth-most in the league), Bradford’s offensive line kept him relatively clean against the Saints and he leveraged the time to complete 9-of-10 intermediate and downfield passes for 234 yards and two scores, according to Pro Football Focus.
“They gave me plenty of time to really sit back there and evaluate things and find the open receiver,” he said of his offensive line.
While Bradford was impressive, he was facing a pass defence that ranked dead last in the NFL last year in yards allowed per game (274.0) and fourth-worst in passer rating allowed (98.1).
But with Bradford still only 29 years old and in an offensive system he had an entire offseason to get familiar with (after being traded to the Vikings days before the start of the 2016 season), it’s not inconceivable that this time, he may finally be becoming the quarterback that fulfils the loftiest of expectations.
“We were very confident in the progress we were making, from OTAs to training camp,” Bradford said. “I saw it in our guys, every day. I think [Monday] was really the first time it translated onto the field. I think we have the capability of doing that on a regular basis.”