PHILADELPHIA -- The ball is on the tee for Sam Bradford.
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback is known to be a very good golfer. Whether Bradford is also a very good NFL quarterback remains undecided.
He was the first pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Since then, a combination of things -- especially his knee in which he has twice torn the ACL -- have kept Bradford from rising to an elite level.
On Saturday night, Bradford gets to take a swing. The Eagles are playing the Washington Redskins with first place in the NFC East on the line. Washington’s quarterback, Kirk Cousins, has taken the opportunity presented to him and led his team to the brink of a division title.
As a fourth-round pick in 2012, Cousins has none of Bradford’s pedigree. But he has won the starting job from a guy who does, former No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III. And he has won over a locker room full of teammates who now believe he can lead them to important victories.
If Cousins can lead Washington to this victory and a division title, he will have to do it at the expense of Bradford. It won’t be the first time that happened.
In 2010, Bradford was a rookie with the St. Louis Rams. He was establishing himself as a talent to watch in the NFL. The Rams were 6-8, the same record as the Eagles have now. On Dec. 26, the same date as the Eagles’ game against Washington, Bradford and the Rams beat the San Francisco 49ers, 25-17, to set up a Week 17 showdown with the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC West title.
Bradford has not played a game with such importance again. Until now.
“You look forward to playing in these games,” Bradford said. “Not everyone gets an opportunity to play in meaningful games in December. Obviously, I haven’t had that many chances to. You just try to do a little extra in your preparation during the week.
“Once you get on the field, you just have to keep it the same. You can’t add any pressure. You can’t try to do too much. You just go out there and try to execute at a high level.”
Bradford comes into the game having improved markedly from his self-described “pretty ugly” play early in the season. Bradford revealed this week that his left knee was sore coming out of training camp and into the season.
“I feel like it’s gotten stronger,” Bradford said, “but I just think that I have more confidence.”
His recent numbers reflect his growing comfort in Chip Kelly’s offense, in his knee and with his teammates.
In his last five games, Bradford has completed 66.5 percent of his throws for seven touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating over those five games has been 96.1.
During those five games, though, the Eagles’ offense has scored a total of 93 points in regulation. That’s an average of 18.6 points per game.
Against Washington, the Eagles need their quarterback to deliver a performance equal to the magnitude of the game. In his biggest game since 2010, the ball is on a tee for Bradford.