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Injuries have left Sam Bradford in 'dark times,' but he's returned after each setback

Last season's injuries were the most frustrating for Sam Bradford, in part because he knew the Vikings had a special team. Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Coming back from major injury after major injury hasn't been easy for Sam Bradford.

He's done it twice thus far in his career, and now, with the Arizona Cardinals, he'll try to do it again.

A knee injury limited Bradford to just two games last season -- Weeks 1 and 5 -- when he was with the Minnesota Vikings. He's been there before. In 2013, he missed the final nine games with a torn ACL and then missed all of the 2014 season after tearing the same ligament.

But after each injury, he has tried to play again and has tried to prove he's more than a high-paid injury liability. And each time he's been able to get himself recovered, rehabilitated and back on a field, only to see another injury happen.

"It seems like each time, it's a little bit tougher mentally," Bradford said. "As you get older, you just realize how precious each game is and how few of these opportunities that you are given. So, each time that it's taken away from you, it's a little bit harder, because you realize what you're missing out on, and that's what really gets you to put all the work in in the offseason. To not be able to be out there with your guys and to not be able to compete on Sundays, that's the tough part about it."

His most recent injury has been the toughest for him to handle.

Bradford injured his knee in a Week 1 one win last season in which he looked impressive. He threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He finished with a 143.0 passer rating, 95.2 raw QBR and a 94.9 total QBR while completing 84.4 percent of his passes. It was everything Bradford could be when he's healthy.

That performance was a carryover from 2016, when he led the NFL in completion percentage (71.6) while throwing for 3,877 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions after getting traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to Minnesota to be the Vikings' starting quarterback in the wake of Teddy Bridgewater's knee injury.

Bradford's Week 1 performance in 2017 was the type of jumping-off point for the season that any quarterback -- especially Bradford -- could want. However he suffered the injury during the game, missed three weeks and tried to play in Week 5 in Chicago but couldn't make it to halftime. He didn't play again the rest of the season.

"I think last year was definitely the hardest just because I knew how special of a group we had last year," Bradford said. "Going into the year, we all thought that we had an opportunity to do something. I felt like I played really well during training camp. It was the second time in my career that I had the same offense going into the season, and so I felt extremely comfortable with what we were doing with [former Vikings offensive coordinator] Pat [Shurmur].

"Obviously, in Week 1, I played great, and I felt really good about where we were as an offense and where we were as a team. To not be able to do it again, yeah, it was tough."

Last season didn't do anything to erase Bradford's injury-prone reputation.

Bradford, 30, has missed 48 games out of 128 possible matchups -- the equivalent of three complete seasons. While he's best known for his knee injuries, he's also missed games because of shoulder and ankle problems.

And they've taken their toll on him. He understands his injuries have prevented him from showcasing his ability for long period of times.

It's been a constant battle for Bradford, knowing he has the skill to succeed but has been hampered time and time again. A battle that has taken him to Arizona, where he signed a two-year contract reportedly worth $20 million each season.

"It's frustrating," Bradford said. "There has been, definitely, some dark times. You fight those battles mentally, but every time you go through that process and every time that you turn the corner and you're able to get yourself back on the field, I feel like I've come back mentally tougher and mentally stronger than I was the time before.

"You have to be aware enough of the injuries to gather and grasp the positives of going through that process, but at the end of the day, you have to forget about it. When you step on that field, I can't think about the knee. I can't worry about it. I know that what I'm going to do and what I've done to this point, I will put myself in the best position to succeed and to be healthy, and that's really all I can control and all I can do."