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Brookover: Hard not to get excited about Bradford's performance

INDIANAPOLIS - We learned a year ago that bold declarations about NFL exhibition games - even the one in which the starters spend extended time on the field - are dangerous.

INDIANAPOLIS - We learned a year ago that bold declarations about NFL exhibition games - even the one in which the starters spend extended time on the field - are dangerous.

So let's live dangerously.

What we saw from Sam Bradford and the offense Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium offered sincere hope for a 2016 Eagles season that until now lacked in enthusiasm and excitement. For the second straight year, Bradford looked brilliant in his final preseason tune-up, connecting on 17 of 20 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

Truth is, he played even better than that during the Eagles' 33-23 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Bradford's first incompletion on the Eagles' opening series resulted in an interception by Colts cornerback Darius Butler, but only because it went through the hands of wide receiver Nelson Agholor. His second incompletion was an end zone throw intended for newcomer Dorial Green-Beckham, who appeared to break off his route too soon. And his third incompletion could have easily been ruled a drop by veteran tight end Brent Celek.

Every other Bradford pass was completed, including a perfectly thrown 4-yard fade to Green-Beckham for a touchdown late in the second quarter and a 3-yard throw to a wide open Trey Burton for a score on the quarterback's final series early in the third quarter.

"I thought tonight culminated [Bradford's] hard work that he put in all through the offseason and training camp," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "I made the decision way back in OTAs to split all the [quarterback] reps equally all the way through training camp and this was the first week Sam had a hundred percent of the reps, and it showed."

The one disclaimer was that the Colts played with a depleted secondary. Starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Patrick Robinson both sat out with injuries and top reserve Darius Butler left in the first quarter with an injury.

That does not change the fact that Bradford was sharp and in control of a first-team offense that scored on its final four possessions if you discount the series at the end of the first half when the Eagles ran one play before time expired.

If Bradford could bottle what he has done in the third exhibition game the last two seasons he would assuredly be back for a third season with the Eagles next year, and the idea of this team's winning the NFC East would not be at all far-fetched.

"It's the preseason," Bradford said. "Obviously there are positives we are going to take away from tonight and there are things we're going to look back on and say we have to be better in certain areas, but you always like when you step on the field and execute the way we did tonight."

A year ago Bradford finished his preseason by completing all 10 of his passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers in Green Bay. That makes him 27 for 30 with five touchdown throws in the third exhibition game over the last two years. We all know that will mean absolutely nothing when the Eagles arrive at the starting gate for their season opener Sept. 11 against the Cleveland Browns at Lincoln Financial Field, but it is still the preferred conclusion to his preseason.

That is especially true when you consider that in Bradford's third exhibition game with the St. Louis Rams two years ago his season was ended on the first series when he suffered the second ACL injury of his career, a setback that labeled him as injury- prone and opened the door for the trade that sent him to the Eagles.

There was so much enthusiasm a year ago after Bradford's game against the Packers, and that will certainly be tempered some this time around. There is still a rookie in waiting and the Eagles were also encouraged by what they saw from second overall pick Carson Wentz on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Field, even though it was long before the opening kickoff.

Wentz, out with a hairline rib fracture, looked strong in a pregame throwing session that was observed by owner Jeffrey Lurie and executive Howie Roseman. Bradford, however, is still in control of his own destiny with the Eagles. Play so well that he leads the Eagles to the playoffs and the team will not be in any hurry to get rid of him.

Is that possible with a patchwork offensive line and a corps of questionable receivers?

Bradford sure made it look that way Saturday night with help from a solid performance by his offensive line and a highly productive running game.

The quarterback was 4 for 4 at converting third-down passes for first downs, including a third-and-17 throw to Chris Givens on the opening series after he had been sacked for a 13-yard loss on first down. He never had a chance on the sack because guard Brandon Brooks whiffed on a blitzing linebacker.

Bradford went 6 for 6 for 56 yards on the Eagles' second touchdown drive in the second quarter and 5 for 6 for 32 yards on the third-quarter touchdown drive. He also displayed command of the offense with an audible run call to rookie Wendell Smallwood on a second-and-5 play that went for 9 yards on that final scoring drive.

It was not a complete game and it was not a real game, so Bradford and the offense still have much to prove. It is still dangerous to make too much of these games that do not count. But on a day when an MRI exam revealed a broken bone in Tony Romo's back, it was a lot easier for the Eagles to feel good about their quarterback situation and offense than the Dallas Cowboys.