As a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback playing at one of the nation’s most high-profile programs,
Bradford played in Big 12 Championship contests and even national title games. And if you want to take it a step further, he’s even played in some pretty big games the past couple of weeks as the Rams make their final playoff push.
But even Bradford didn’t hesitate when asked Wednesday whether Sunday’s battle in Seattle for the NFC West Division crowd is the biggest game of his football career.
“I would imagine (it is),” Bradford said. “We are talking about the NFL now; with a shot to make the NFL playoffs which growing up is what you dream about. You dream about playing in the playoffs, making the Super Bowl. So the fact that we have the opportunity to make the playoffs in my first year, I think it’s awesome. I am really looking forward to this opportunity.”
The opportunity to which Bradford is referring is the one that awaits him and the Rams in the Emerald City on Sunday. There, the Rams take on division rival Seattle at Qwest Field with the added pressure of stepping on to the big stage that comes with NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
Of course, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that fazes Bradford. Considering that Bradford has yet to show much in the way of signs of being flustered even as teams have thrown every blitz known to man his way, it stands to reason that he wouldn’t be too worried about playing in a night game on national television.
It doesn’t hurt his cause that Bradford comes with plenty of experience playing in big games.
In three seasons at Oklahoma, Bradford played in three Red River Shootouts in front of sold out crowds against Texas, a national title game against Florida, two Big 12 Championship games and a Fiesta Bowl against West Virginia.
Even in the past two weeks, the Rams have essentially found themselves in do or die situations, so Bradford is no stranger to the moment and says he won’t change how he approaches the game.
“Yeah, I’m sure it can help,” Bradford said. “I try to approach every game the same. Whether it’s a big game, an average game, they are all big games. They all help you get to your goal at the end of the season. Obviously this one has probably got a little more importance on it now that we are in the final week and the winner goes to the playoffs but like I said, you have to treat it like a normal game, prepare like you have all year and go out there and play the way we’ve played.”
That the Rams are even in this position is due in no small part to what their rookie quarterback has accomplished this season.
Earlier this year, Bradford set a rookie record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Last week, he passed Peyton Manning for most completions by a rookie quarterback and he sits in striking distance of Manning’s records for most attempts and passing yards by a rookie signal caller.
Should the Rams make the leap into the playoffs, Bradford would become the first quarterback taken No. 1 overall in the draft to start a playoff game in his rookie season.
That’s heady stuff for any rookie. But, as coach Steve Spagnuolo learned early on, Bradford isn’t just any rookie.
“No, over the 15 games that we’ve all been together I think all the guys, myself included, realize that Sam is a competitor,” Spagnuolo said. “He enjoys playing. He’s good for our football team. I’m glad we have him as our quarterback. I think he proved early that he can go out there and do the things you need to do as a quarterback in the NFL.”
Bradford’s quick start to his career in which he helped the Rams to some early wins and showed a penchant for ball security all while making plays in the passing game, has only helped the coaching staff’s confidence in him grow as the season goes on.
For evidence of that, look no further than the fact that Bradford needs just 22 passing attempts against Seattle to pass Manning (575) for the most passing attempts by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.
“If you had asked me before the season I probably would have said that we wouldn’t have thrown the ball as much but like I said, as a quarterback you love to throw the football,” Bradford said. “So the fact that our coaching staff feels comfortable with the ball in my hands just gives me confidence and makes me feel very good about going out there on Sundays.”
With one game left in the season, Bradford is 335-of-554 for 3,357 yards with 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a rating of 78.0. Along the way, Bradford has not missed a single snap, making him one of just three quarterbacks to handle all the snaps for his team.
While Bradford is comfortable playing in big games on a big stage, he has yet to do it in an atmosphere as hostile as the one he’ll see in Seattle.
This week, the Rams are doing all they can to prepare for what will almost certainly be a loud and boisterous atmosphere at Qwest Field. For a quarterback, in particular, it’s important to be on point with the snap count and communication in such a difficult environment.
That’s why the Rams are ratcheting up the noise in practice this week to get Bradford as much work in those conditions as possible.
“I have heard that it’s extremely loud up there,” Bradford said. “We started with the noise today. Usually we don’t start with that until later in the week but we are going to practice with noise every day this week. I am trying to change the snap count as much as possible to make our guys focus. We are trying to do everything we can to prepare ourselves for Sunday.”
Despite all of the hoopla going into the game and what it means in the big picture, Bradford isn’t losing sight of the opportunity laying before him.
Everything he and his teammates have worked for this season sits right in front of them just waiting to be seized.
“That’s a great feeling,” Bradford said. “This is what you play for. You play to get in the playoffs. That’s something we set out for ourselves: we set a goal to win the NFC West at the beginning of the year and that goal is still out there for us. Anytime you go into the last regular season game with your goals still ahead of you, you have got to be very happy but we understand it’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us to go up there Sunday and beat this Seattle football team. We are going to put in a great week of practice, great week of preparation and get ready for it.”