The Sam Bradford era begins this Thursday in New England.
Technically the rookie quarterback will start his first professional football game that day, but he didn't exactly earn the promotion to first team. He got the nod on a short week when A.J. Feeley hurt his thumb, by, presumably, sucking it from the fetal position after watching offensive line game tape from preseason week one.
So here we go. Like it or not, Bradford is stepping into the spotlight and the training wheels are coming off. The third preseason game is the most realistic 'dress rehearsal' NFL teams have in the preseason. If Bradford comes proper, the starting job can be his for good. If he looks like he did in Cleveland last weekend?
You know what? Some would consider 6/14 for 24 yards and a 50.3 passer rating an improvement over the quarterbacking the Rams had in 2009. Let's stay positive, right?
The biggest question is what do we look for in Mr. Bradford this Thursday?
Bradford was awful against the Browns. And one of his biggest problems was overthinking what the Cleveland defense was giving him and not instinctively making plays when they came open. The wide receivers weren't helping the cause, but Bradford didn't rise to the occasion. Some are blaming the rain. And that's fine. Once.
Now you're facing the best defensive mind in football. A diabolical coach who's going to devise a game plan specifically geared to throwing Bradford out of his comfort zone. Bill Belichick is a guy that relishes embarrassing overpriced rookies like No. 8. Does Bradford do a better job of reading, recognizing and then making plays? He can't be much worse.
No QB in the history of the NFL has been a winner and not taken his team by the apple bag from the walk out the tunnel to the end of the game. This is Bradford's team and these guys are going to feed off his energy. Negative or positive.
He's been emotionally steady so far. But it's a different beast when you're the man and not the man in waiting. This team is begging for a leader at QB. If things go bad early, how will Bradford react? What will he do to rally this offense?
Rams fans will put up with average stat lines if they see a guy who is making plays. Roll-out bombs, threading the needle on third down, a broken scramble/flip for big yards. Something that makes it known he's more talented than 75% of the starting QB's in the NFL.
He's the highest paid player in the NFL. Win or lose, everybody wants to point to a handful of plays and say "See! See that! We're going to be OK!"
The symmetry of Bradford's start coming against the Patriots isn't lost on Rams fans. Since the Pats upset the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, the two franchises have had mildly different success trajectories—New England went on to win two more championships and the Rams morphed into Detroit Jr. Finally, with the drafting of the Oklahoma QB, the Rams look to be at least bailing water out of their sinking ship. Bradford at least represents something... that is, until his first horrific injury.
In reality, this game is nothing more than a historical footnote in the career of a first overall draft pick. Even the most ardent Rams fan is going to struggle to recall anything about this game three seasons from now. But right now? It's the most important game many of have seen in three years.
The Sam Bradford era... welcome.