Dominant Sam Bradford outplays Aaron Rodgers in Vikings debut: 8 takeaways
Maybe the Vikings knew exactly what they were doing when they traded for Bradford
The Vikings traded for Sam Bradford two weeks ago in what looked to anyone half-paying attention like an act of desperation. The team had just lost its young franchise quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, for the season to a serious knee injury, and apparently the prospects of heading into 2016 with 36-year-old journeyman backup Shaun Hill wasn't an appealing one.
So the Eagles fleeced the Vikings, shipping Bradford west for a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2018. It seemed like a fleecing at the time, anyway.
By Sunday night, in the very first game in brand new U.S. Bank Stadium, it was Bradford who looked like Aaron Rodgers while Rodgers looked like an erratic, out-of-sorts turnover machine. That's right, on this night, we were in the alternate universe that got to experience Franchise Bradford. When it was over, just 15 days after being traded, he was 22 of 31 for 286 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. He had everything to do with the Vikings outlasting the Packers, 17-14.
Here are eight takeaways from the Vikings' win over their division rivals:
1. So, the trade was definitely worth it, right?
For one evening, anyway. Taking the longer view, the reality remains: The Vikings gave up first- and fourth-round picks for Sam Bradford, the man who has started 16 games in a season just twice since coming into the league as the No. 1 pick in 2010 -- and that includes missing the 2014 season entirely. And even if Bradford defies the odds and is still standing in December, that won't be enough to justify the trade. The Vikings -- who are defending NFC North champs, by the way -- have to return to the playoffs, and we'd think they'd need to at least win a game. (They should have beaten the Seahawks in that frigid wild-card matchup back in January but ... well, you know.)
And while it's dangerous to make too many grand proclamations in Week 2, it is encouraging that Bradford played so well so quickly. One possible reason: having a keen grasp of a playbook he first laid eyes on two weeks ago. Vikings tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, who was Bradford's offensive coordinator in St. Louis and Philadelphia, almost certainly helped immerse him in Norv Turner's offense. And Bradford should only become more proficient in the days and weeks to come.
Also encouraging: The quarterback's performance on Sunday came without the benefit of a running game. And that leads us to the bad news ...
2. The Vikings offense may have just become one dimensional
Even before Adrian Peterson had to be helped off the field and to the locker room with a knee injury, it wasn't like the running game was clicking. The NFL's rushing leader a season ago had managed just 19 yards on 12 carries in three-plus quarters of work against the Packers, and that was a week after 31 yards on 19 carries against the Titans.
Adrian Peterson with just 50 yards after first two games of the season, lowest of his 10-year career. Includes suspension-ridden 2014 season— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) September 19, 2016
There's also this:
Adrian Peterson accounts for $12M in 2016 & $18M in 2017, the final year of his contract w/ the #Vikings, inc. a $6M bonus early next March.— Spotrac (@spotrac) September 19, 2016
It gets worse, for both Bradford and the Vikings.
If Peterson's out for any length of time (and this certainly didn't look good) ...
... it's unclear how the offense will adjust to keep opponents from teeing off on the quarterback. Which brings us to our second point: The Vikings' offensive line is more run-blocking maulers than finesse pass-pro specialists, which makes Bradford's continued health a precarious proposition in light of Peterson's situation. Just something to monitor moving forward.
But it's not all doom and gloom ...
3. Stefon Diggs or Adrian Peterson -- who ya got?
It wasn't an either/or question heading into Sunday's game, but in light of Peterson's injury -- and his lack of production prior to it -- perhaps losing him for any length of time isn't a death knell to the hope for offensive balance. There's still Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, but more importantly, wide receiver Stefon Diggs could become the game-changing playmaker that Peterson once was.
Diggs, the second-year wideout from Maryland, took over the game on Sunday, thanks in large part to precision passes from Bradford. The 2015 fifth-round pick finished with nine receptions for 182 yards and this 25-yard touchdown shortly after Peterson went down:
But Diggs was making plays all night long. Here he is just before halftime, setting up a field goal:
And the chemistry between quarterback and wideout should only get better.
Sam Bradford targeting Stefon Diggs tonight: 8-of-8 for 167 yards, a TD and 6 first downs— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 19, 2016
4. Kyle Rudolph gets first TD in U.S. Bank Stadium history
Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who had 49 catches for 495 yards and five touchdowns last year, will also be a key cog in a possibly Peterson-less offense.
5. So, about Aaron Rodgers...
First, credit to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who has had success in the past game-planning against Rodgers. The Packers quarterback usually gets the best of Zimmer on the scoreboard, but on Sunday night, Rodgers looked harried for most of the evening, and that led to an uneasiness in the pocket, errant throws, bad decision, three fumbles and a back-breaking interception.
In fact, at the half, Rodgers was 8 of 15 for 59 yards (by comparison, Bradford was 16 of 23 for 175 yards). And while he finished with 213 passing yards, the lasting memories will be the lost fumble midway through the fourth quarter by defensive lineman Brian Robison ...
... and the interception on the Packers' last drive of the game that sealed their fates.
6. It was an interesting night for Trae Waynes
The 2015 first-round pick played with confidence early in the game, but a string of pass interference penalties seemed to shake him -- and his coach. Zimmer pulled him off the field on at least one occasion, and switched from man coverage to more zone looks to hopefully make Waynes' job easier. But the struggles were forgotten in the instant he picked off Rodgers.
7. Hey, the Vikings opened a new stadium!
Even Roger Goodell was impressed!
Here's a view of the skyline from the stadium:
And records were broken:
And yes, Bud Grant was there:
8. Seriously, we can not stress how much Bradford impressed
.@stefon_diggs (182 yards) = most receiving yards by any Bradford receiver in a game.— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 19, 2016
Previous high: 160 yards by Danny Amendola in 2012
Throw in the fact that Bradford injured his left hand early in the game ... and it didn't even appear to phase him.
Yooooo Sam Bradford's hand is screwed up! pic.twitter.com/A4hERygMhS— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 19, 2016
Or that we bookmarked this tweet early in the evening fully expecting to use in an "See, we told you so" recap of why trading for Bradford was dumb.
#Vikings QB Sam Bradford— Spotrac (@spotrac) September 19, 2016
63 Games Played
81 QB Rating
60% Completion Rate
$90M+ Career Earnings
But for now, Bradford gets the last laugh. And if he can somehow stay healthy, this could even become a weekly occurrence (though let's not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet).
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