“We’re obviously very disappointed,” head coach Jeff Fisher said on Sunday. “We have two issues here. We obviously lose our starting quarterback. And for Sam, personally, the news is devastating to him.”
Nine months removed from undergoing surgery to repair the same injury, Bradford sustained a tear to his left ACL in Saturday’s 33-14 win against the Browns. Initial reports were encouraging, but an MRI confirmed what they had feared most: a torn ACL.
A timetable has not been set for Bradford’s operation, according to Fisher, although it’s likely they will allow some time for the swelling to subside.
Making his second preseason start, Bradford appeared to have trust in his surgically-repaired knee, stepping into his throws and standing tall in the pocket. In three series spanning two preseason appearances, Bradford completed 13-of-21 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown.
“If you saw him play and practice the last two weeks, I think you’d agree with me that he was 100 percent back and on his way,” Fisher said.
Fisher went on to dismiss speculation that the team immediately began looking into trade options after learning the severity of Bradford’s injury. Instead, Fisher noted his confidence in backup quarterback Shaun Hill, who was acquired this offseason in free agency.
“We move forward as a football team,” Fisher said. “Shaun is our guy. We brought him here. He’s got experience. I have all the confidence in the world in him. We probably have as good a group of talent around the quarterback position as we’ve had since we came here. Shaun is excited about that and he’ll benefit from it.”
Hill’s wealth of experience came in large part to a similar scenario in 2010. When Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford separated his shoulder, it was Hill who assumed the duties, appearing in 11 games. Despite Hill's not earning a heaping portion of regular-season reps the past few years, Fisher noted Hill’s impressive preseason outings as a reason why they signed him to a one-year, $1.75 million deal.
Hill, 34, has been with the team since March and has the pulse of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s system. Fisher, however, didn’t rule out monitoring the waiver wire, which is soon to be flush with cast-aside talent or potential trade scenarios in the coming weeks for depth at the position.
“It makes no sense to jump and react right now and try to fill the hole at whatever cost,” Fisher said. “We’re going to take our time with this. There’s going to be some quarterbacks that are released. And there may or may not be some quarterbacks out there that have trade value. We just don’t know. It’s way too soon.”
Bradford sustained the injury in the Rams’ first drive of Sunday’s game. With Bradford lined up in the shotgun formation, Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant barreled in to force an incompletion and knocked Bradford to the ground. Though it wasn't a high-impact collision, Bradford’s hyper-extended knee remained locked, and something had to give.
“The ACL, if stressed just right, is fairly easy to tear,” orthopedic surgeon and former NFL offensive lineman Mark Adickes told FOXSports.com in an email. “Sam Bradford twisted his left knee in a way, with enough weight on the involved leg, that the contact from the defender added sufficient torque and stress resulting in a tear of his reconstructed ACL.”
What this means for Bradford’s long-term future is unknown. Including a fully guaranteed salary just north of $14 million for 2014, Bradford’s career earnings since entering the league in 2010 total more than $65 million. A decision on whether to pay Bradford’s final year of his deal in 2015 could come down to how he progresses over the next 12 months.
“The bigger problem is that approximately half as many athletes return to their peak level of performance after revision ACL reconstruction as compared to the first ACL surgery,” Adickes said.
And that’s the harsh reality Bradford and Rams’ brass are dealing with.
Niners need to find their rhythm
The 49ers offense has been concerning this preseason. Entering the final week before the regular season, they certainly hope the lack of production doesn’t bleed into the Week 1 opener against the Cowboys.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s 6-of-12 outing for 59 yards with a sack and fumble has led head coach Jim Harbaugh to decide the starters will get some playing time next week in the final preseason game.
Kaepernick, who found himself under a consistent Chargers’ pass rush, began his last series sharp. After completing five passes, the offense was short-circuited by balls deflected at the line of scrimmage, leading to a Niners’ field goal.
On the flip side, Andy Dalton followed up his strong preseason with another impressive performance. While the Bengals quarterback didn’t throw any scores, he was able to move the offense and consistently get it in scoring position.
Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins made his preseason debut after months of rehabbing a torn ACL and was used sparingly as the team tries to ease him back into action. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict had an early exit with a hamstring injury to cap his eventful week, which included a contract extension.