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Sam Bradford shows steady improvement

Chip Kelly thinks quarterback Sam Bradford is improving each week, and the Eagles coach expects his quarterback to have many more weeks to improve in an Eagles uniform.

Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford.
Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford.Read more(Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

Chip Kelly thinks quarterback Sam Bradford is improving each week, and the Eagles coach expects his quarterback to have many more weeks to improve in an Eagles uniform.

"We've always wanted Sam here," Kelly said. "We wouldn't have traded for him if we thought he was going to be here for a year."

Bradford, a free agent at the end of the season, is more desirable after the way he has played in recent weeks. The Eagles have won five of the last six games that Bradford finished. He went 23 of 38 for 247 yards with one touchdown and one interception Sunday in a 23-20 win over the Buffalo Bills. Kelly said Bradford did not throw an errant pass all afternoon. If not for drops from his receivers, the numbers would have been better. Even the interception was wrestled away from tight end Brent Celek.

The weekly answer from Bradford is that he's getting more comfortable with more time in the system. He missed nearly two years because of knee injuries and had only a summer to adjust to the Eagles' system. In the first two months of the season, Bradford threw more interceptions than touchdowns and had three games in which he completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes. He said now he is better able to go through his progressions and understand what to do on a given play.

"Name any quarterback playing at a high level now and they have been playing in the same system for years, not for months," Kelly said. "And that's what Sam's case is; he's just been playing our system for months."

Kelly said he did not have an expectation on how long it would Bradford to reach this point. The improvements have been almost on a weekly basis. But it has been most noticeable since the bye week at the end of October.

In four games Bradford played after bye - one of which was interrupted because of a concussion and a separated shoulder - he has completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 898 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception.

"I think it allows you to have a chance to step back and look at it from a different perspective," Bradford said of the bye week. "I'm not sure I changed a whole lot. . . . I think I'm just getting more comfortable. I feel like my feet have been much better. I feel like my pocket movement has been much better. I feel like when I play with my feet in rhythm, good things usually happen. I feel like the past couple weeks, my feet have been pretty good."

That has been a focus of quarterbacks coach Ryan Day. Bradford and Day noticed a problem with his weight transfer before the bye week, and they have worked on it during practice sessions.

Bradford's accuracy and decision-making have both improved. It was not entirely on Bradford during the September struggles - the drops have been an issue all season and the receivers have underperformed - but there were questionable throws. Those are less frequent during the last month.

"I just think Sam, as a whole, has progressed as the season has gone along," Kelly said. "Not I think; I know, it takes a long while to play quarterback in this league. There are so many things that you have to get and when we got Sam, we knew with any quarterback it's going to take time."

The Eagles have gone much of the season without a vertical game. They revealed more of a willingness to go deep n Sunday. It wasn't always successful, but Bradford connected with Nelson Agholor for a 53-yard touchdown.

Bradford said the deep passes were based on the coverage that the Bills played. There was not often a deep safety and the Bills tried challenging the Eagles' receivers.

Bradford's biggest error in Sunday's game actually came from playing too cautiously. On third and 6 with 2 minutes, 7 seconds remaining and the Eagles nursing a three-point lead, Bradford rolled out for a pass. Under pressure, he kept running backward and took a sack for a 15-yard loss instead of throwing the ball with the clock approaching the two-minute warning.

"I have to know that it's going to get down to the two-minute warning regardless and I have to throw it away," Bradford said. "It's critical right there. Just a mental mistake."

That mistake didn't end up costing the Eagles, so Bradford can live and learn. But there was no foolish turnover or poorly thrown ball to pin on Bradford on Sunday, and the positive signs have been apparent.

He's also become more comfortable in the leadership role. Teammates have noticed the normally reserved Bradford speaking up more before games. When it happened in October, it was a story. Now, it's not a surprise.

Bradford's future in Philadelphia won't be clear until his name is on a new contract. But Bradford is a big reason why the Eagles won the last two games to get back into playoff consideration, and the season is starting to come together the way he anticipated.

"I still think there are some things that we can do better," Bradford said. "Obviously, we are still not great out there. But I think this is what I envisioned as far as us winning as a team, what we have been able to do the past two weeks, to put two wins together. I think that is kind of what everyone was looking to see."