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Is Vikings' Sam Bradford ready to be an elite NFL QB?

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford looks on during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Aug. 31, 2017. Jeffrey Becker / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The last time a Vikings quarterback was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, the season went pretty well.

That was in 2009, when Brett Favre won the award twice, and the Vikings made it to the NFC championship game.

Sam Bradford picked up the honor Wednesday, Sept. 13, for his lights-out performance in Monday night's 29-19 season-opening victory over New Orleans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Bradford completed 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards, three touchdowns and a career-high passer rating of 143.0.

"Obviously, it's cool," Bradford said. "I think if you get named that, you played well and helped your team win."

Bradford's Week 1 performance leads many to wonder whether he finally can reach expectations that have been heaped upon him.

He was projected to be an NFL star after winning the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma in 2008 and being the top pick in the 2010 draft. But injuries and constant changes in offensive coordinators have hampered his career.

Bradford, 29, has talked about this being just the second time in his NFL career he has started a season not coming off an injury and not playing for a new coordinator. He is in his second year with Pat Shurmur, who also was his coordinator with the St. Louis Rams in 2010 and Philadelphia Eagles in 2015.

With the obvious comfort level Bradford has, could he finally emerge as an elite NFL quarterback?

"I think he can," said Joe Theismann, a former Washington Redskins all-pro quarterback. "He's shown that if you give him time, he's going to hurt you. The big thing, though, is staying healthy."

That was a problem when Bradford suffered torn ACLs in 2013 and 2014 with the Rams. He was able to stay healthy with the Vikings last season despite being sacked 37 times in 15 games playing behind a porous offensive line and without much of a running game.

This season, the Vikings have a better line and rookie running back Dalvin Cook, who ran for 127 yards against the Saints. Bradford showed what he could do with that kind of help.

"I said this offseason, 'This will be a big year for Sam,'" Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "I wasn't surprised by his performance on Monday night. There's a reason why he was drafted No. 1 overall, and a reason he had the success he had in college."

Theismann said Bradford was "really an afterthought" when the desperate Vikings acquired him from the Eagles for first- and fourth-round picks on Sept. 3, 2016 right after starter Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury.

Bradford set an NFL record last season completing 71.6 percent of his attempts but was forced into throwing mostly short passes because of Minnesota's limitations. The Vikings went 7-8 in games he played, meaning Bradford never has had a winning record as a starter in any NFL season.

This year, though, Bradford is much more at ease. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer named him one of the team's six captains last week, and Bradford is proudly displaying a "C" on his uniform.

"To be named a captain and know that I'm one of the leaders in this locker room and on this football team, it means a lot, and I take a lot of pride in it," said Bradford, a captain for the first time since he was with St. Louis in 2014. "I think there's a lot of responsibility that comes with that, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure to live up to that."

Bradford admitted joining the Vikings just eight days before the opener last season resulted in some awkwardness.

"Having been here for a year with our guys and just building those relationships, I think it makes it easier to be more vocal," he said. "I think they're more comfortable with me now, (and) I'm more comfortable with them. ... Last year, I was really just trying to figure out what I was doing and making sure I wasn't messing everything up."

Rudolph, also a captain, agreed ... with one exception.

"More vocal is a very, very loose term with Sam," Rudolph said with a laugh about the mild-mannered quarterback.

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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