Sam Bradford returns to field, survives his Eagles debut
Sam Bradford's final line, if you are interested by that sort of thing in the preseason: 3-of-5 passing for 35 yards. He played one possession, which resulted in a 14-yard touchdown run by Ryan Mathews.
The stats paled in comparison, though, to Bradford's mere presence on the field, almost exactly a year removed from the knee injury that cost him the 2014 season. Bradford even took a couple of shots in his Philadelphia debut, including one from Baltimore's Terrell Suggs that resulted in a 15-yard personal foul.
“The good news is he stood up,” Eagles preseason announcer and NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock offered after that Suggs hit.
Mayock chuckled a bit as he said it, but he was absolutely right. Chip Kelly gave Bradford just one series Friday, a clear indication that the Eagles' main goal was to get their injury-prone quarterback a chance to get his feet wet. To shake off the rust. To take a little contact and being to trust his own body again when it came to playing in an NFL game.
Granted, Kelly would have preferred to avoid Suggs spinning Bradford off his feet by the knees or Brandon Williams burying the Philadelphia QB as he let go of a pass after hesitating in the pocket.
But all's well that ends well, for now.
The points Philadelphia scored on that opening drive were merely a bonus, though it will escape no one that Bradford marched the first-team offense down the field with the help of new running backs DeMarco Murray and Mathews. Murray rushed four times for 13 yards while Bradford was in the game, before Mathews found the end zone. On the Eagles' next possession, with Mark Sanchez on in relief at quarterback, Murray scored from two yards out.
How the revamped run game fares this season arguably will have a greater impact on the Eagles' fortunes than what Bradford does. Kelly swapped out LeSean McCoy for Murray, more of a downhill back, then scooped up the injury-prone Mathews for an extra kick.
Between that duo and versatile pass-catcher Darren Sproles, Philadelphia now may have the deepest, most dangerous group of backs in the NFL.
The run game and Kelly's unique scheme helped lead to decent success during the 2013 and '14 seasons—first, with Nick Foles' borderline inexplicable performance two seasons ago and then as the Eagles locked up 10 wins last season despite mediocre QB play from Foles and Sanchez.
This offense is designed to work with any quarterback calling the shots, but the sky is the limit if Kelly finds the right quarterback. He sees Bradford as the difference-maker.
In order to live up to that billing, Bradford has to tiptoe through a full season for the first time since 2012 and for just the third time in his now six-year career. Philadelphia will be stuck with some combination of Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow if he cannot. And while there were reports earlier this month that he might receive a contract extension, Bradford currently would be a free agent after the 2015 season—meaning he has millions of reasons to pray for good health.
Expect Kelly to ratchet up Bradford's snap count next week, maybe repeating that strategy in the fourth preseason game that's usually reserved for guys trying to crack the roster.
Eventually, Bradford will have to throw far more than five passes and play much longer than one series. This was not the night to test his limits. He took a few snaps, endured a couple of hits and wound up no worse for the wear.
It is not much, but Bradford simply making it through Friday night was critical for him and his new team.