StaTuesday: Vikings’ Bradford flips the script in Week 1

FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2017, file photo, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford warms up before an NFL preseason football game against the San Francisco 49ers, in Minneapolis. The Vikings have as much motivation for a turnaround as an NFL team could find. They're hosting the Super Bowl this season. But they've got a tall task ahead of them to achieve the goal of the star-crossed franchise's first championship. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn, File)

Sam Bradford looked good in primetime.

Not “game manager” good or “bad defense” good, but really good.

Bradford had asterisk after asterisk attached to his first season with the Minnesota Vikings, in which the famously combustible quarterback set an NFL record for completion percentage.

He completed 71.56 percent of his passes in 2016, but was hitting most of his receivers six yards off the line.

He had the league’s sixth-best passer rating, but ranked 21st in yards per attempt.

The list goes on.

But then he passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns Monday night against the supposedly improved New Orleans Saints, powering the Vikings to a 29-19 win and throwing that whole narrative out of whack.

It was the one of the best games of his career by virtually any measure.

Date Opp. Rating Comp. Att. Yards TD
Sept. 11, 2017 New Orleans 143.0 27 32 346 3
Oct. 13, 2013 Houston 134.6 12 16 117 3
Oct. 9, 2016 Houston 123.1 22 30 271 2
Oct. 4, 2015 Washington 122.6 15 28 270 3
Sept. 18, 2016 Green Bay 121.2 22 31 286 2

Bradford had the second-best passer rating of Week 1, joining Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams in the top three.

It was a weird week.

Player Team Rating
Alex Smith Kansas City 148.6
Sam Bradford Minnesota 143.0
Jared Goff L.A. Rams 117.9

Of the players to go off in Week 1, Bradford’s performance is among the most encouraging.

The Saints’ defense has been historically bad in recent years, but the preseason buzz was all positive.

New Orleans has spent significant draft capital on defense over the last few years (eight of its last 12 picks in the first or second round have been spent on defenders), while linebackers Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein came over in free agency.

None of that seemed to matter to Bradford and co.

The offensive line held up, giving Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs time to get down field, where Bradford found them, completing an eye-popping 84.4 percent of his passes with an average output of 10.8 yards per attempt.

He unloaded this geometrically nonsensical throw to Jarius Wright, threading the smallest of needles to set up a Diggs touchdown.

It was one of the most accurate performances in Vikings history.

Player Date Opp. Comp. % Comp. Att.
Fran Tarkenton 11/13/77 Cincinnati 94.4 17 18
Brett Favre 11/22/09 Seattle 88.0 22 25
Brett Favre 9/20/09 Detroit 85.19 23 27
Teddy Bridgewater 12/20/15 Chicago 85.0 17 20
Sam Bradford 9/11/17 New Orleans 84.4 27 32

Bradford completed eight passes of at least 20 yards, outgunning the rest of the NFL in Week 1.

Player Team Opp. 20+ yards 40+ yards Longest
Sam Bradford Minnesota New Orleans 8 1 44
Jared Goff L.A. Rams Indianapolis 7 0 39
Tom Brady New England Kansas City 5 1 54
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Seattle 5 0 32

He leaned on Diggs throughout the night, hitting the third-yard receiver seven times for 93 yards and two touchdowns.

It was the first time since Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper hooked up for a pair of scores in 2004 that a Vikings receiver has had multiple touchdowns in a season opener.

Player Date Opp. Yards TD
Ahmad Rashad  9/2/79 San Francisco  152  4
Cris Carter 8/31/97 Buffalo 121 2
Cris Carter 9/6/98 Tampa Bay 31 2
Stefon Diggs 9/11/17  New Orleans 93 2
Hassan Jones  9/6/92 Green Bay 57 2
Randy Moss  9/12/04  Dallas 27 2
Randy Moss 9/6/98 Tampa  Bay 95 2
Herschel Walker  9/9/90 Kansas City 70 2
Rickey Young  9/3/78 New Orleans 134 2

Was it the shoes?