EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The story of Minnesota's season is a strange, tense, winding tale of promise that evaporated under the weight of injuries to several important players and a depleted offensive line just trying to get from one snap to the next.
Even Sam Bradford, the protagonist in September as the new, hastily acquired quarterback, became almost an afterthought.
His chapter, though, remains one of the bright spots for the Vikings in this year that can't end soon enough.
"If you sat back and looked at all the things, being traded, trying to learn a new system, having a new coach, having to learn teammates, all these things that he's had to deal with, injuries on offense, I thought he's done an unbelievable job," coach Mike Zimmer said, adding: "Maybe this is the best year he's ever had."
Bradford has completed a league-best 71.29 percent of his passes (370 for 519). That will be an all-time NFL record if he can maintain it through the last game Sunday against Chicago.
Drew Brees, who set the mark for New Orleans in 2011 at 71.23 percent, also has a chance to keep the record with a 70.95 completion percentage entering his finale at Atlanta.
Bradford is also 99 yards short of a career high for passing after compiling 3,725 yards for Philadelphia in 2015, and he's carrying personal professional bests in passer rating (98.3) and interception rate (0.8 percent). Indicative of the protection in front of him, Bradford has taken a career-most 37 sacks.
Even with the eight losses by the Vikings in the past 10 games that have ruined the 5-0 start, the price of a 2017 first-round draft pick and a middle-round selection in 2018 has proven worthy after the massive knee injury to Teddy Bridgewater triggered the emergency trade.
"Until the season is over, there is just not much time to sit around and think about that. Our focus, my focus, is on Chicago this week," Bradford said, with predictable nonchalance.
The promotion of tight ends coach Pat Shurmur to interim offensive coordinator after the surprise resignation of Norv Turner was nothing but a boost for Bradford, who played under Shurmur with the Eagles and also as a rookie with St. Louis in 2010.
The 2010 first overall draft pick by the Rams has spoken often of the comfort and common viewpoint he has with Shurmur.
Becoming a leader of the offense after arriving eight days before the season opener isn't easy, a role that the laid-back Bradford appeared not to rush.
"Sam just tries to be himself, which is fine with me, and you can be a 'rah-rah' guy and not perform or guys don't listen to you," Zimmer said.
Under contract for another year, Bradford has more time to grow into that face of the franchise that Bridgewater was just a few months ago. Bridgewater's prognosis is uncertain after dislocating his left knee and tearing multiple ligaments, including the ACL, in practice in late August.
"It's tough for them to have a guy come in the week of the regular season and play quarterback. It's just a different dynamic, but they've been great," Bradford said.
"They welcomed me with open arms from the beginning, and I feel like each week that I have been here, I've gotten more comfortable around the guys, gotten more comfortable in the locker room and can kind of be myself, which I think that has been, really, a fun process to be a part of."
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