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Despite loss, Eagles' Sam Bradford shows he's a winner

HE LAID there flat on his back, motionless, the air out of his body, the air out of the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field too.

Sam Bradford against the Cardinals.
Sam Bradford against the Cardinals.Read more(David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

HE LAID there flat on his back, motionless, the air out of his body, the air out of the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field too.

At another time - say, earlier this season - such a sight might have been met with indifference from some, enthusiasm by others, nervous anticipation by all. But that was before we saw what Mark Sanchez could do with a year of this offense under his belt.

And it was before we saw what Sam Bradford could do with half of that, without the fear of re-injury haunting his head. There was none of that now as he stuck in there to convert a third-and-13 with a strike to Jordan Matthews over the middle, two Arizona blitzers engulfing him just after the release, more than 500 pounds collapsing on him as he struck the cold turf.

This was early in Sunday night's 40-17 loss to Arizona, a loss that meant little in this season of anomalies except for this: Bradford is making the plays elite quarterbacks make, and playing with a toughness and resilience his injury history belies, winning over the crowd the hardest way possible, the way a Roman gladiator would.

In the end, Bradford's numbers reflected the gritty, if uneven performance of his entire team. Forty one pass attempts, 361 yards, two touchdown passes and two ugly picks, one returned for a touchdown.

In the end, he was hardly the reason they lost and not amazing enough for them to win, but he sure left a lot of good thought for the future in the suggestion box. He completed one clutch throw as he was driven to the ground at the back of the end zone, and completed the Eagles' longest touchdown pass in five years, a 78-yard bomb to Matthews, as he was again driven to the ground violently.

A quarterback who had spent much of this season as the focal point of civic frustration with this team had evolved over the previous few weeks as the best reason to hold onto hope. Drops and penalties along the line have continued to sabotage drives and held down scores, but until that first pick, Bradford had eliminated many of the mistakes that hounded his first half, and had become, of late, wonderfully productive on these low-percentage third-down plays, taking more than his share of punishment along the way.

"I think we did some really good things," said Bradford, sounding beat up and tired. "That was a really good defense we played tonight. I think they're top-five in the league in total defense. We made some plays. It's not like they shut us down all night. We just had too many self-inflicted wounds to do anything."

So there was Bradford halfway through the first quarter Sunday night, a battle winner but possibly out of this and all remaining wars. A concussion and shoulder injury had already forced him from two games this season, and it was logical to assume from his immobility that this hit produced a recurrence of one or both.

But here's what we're learning about the guy Chip Kelly picked up for what now amounts to - with Nick Foles riding the pine in St. Louis - a second-round pick. He's tough. He's resilient. And if you give him just enough time and catch the catchable balls and don't fumble and block legally, he may just yet deserve that franchise tag at year's end.

And so, after a few minutes that seemed like hours, Bradford rose slowly to his feet as the Linc crowd rose quickly to theirs. He remained out for exactly one play, and two plays later was popped again as he delivered a pass to Zach Ertz at the goal line that was broken up violently.

Later in the game, passing from the back of his end zone, Bradford was buried again by 287-pound tackle Ed Stinson as he delivered a 22-yard strike to Josh Huff. That began a long promising third-quarter drive with the Eagles trailing by 13, a drive that ended when Arizona's Markus Golden blitzed from Bradford's blind side and violently separated him and the ball as he looked downfield.

He wasn't perfect. The pick-6 was an awful ball and it pushed Arizona's lead to 37-10 late in the third quarter. But that play was followed by a bomb to Matthews, the kind of throw that has been at the crux of criticism directed at Bradford this season. Again, Bradford delivered the ball with a blitzer - this time linebacker Alex Okafor - about to pile drive him to the ground. Again the ball was on the money, hitting Matthews in stride for a 78-yard touchdown - by far his longest touchdown pass of the season.

And the Eagles' longest since 2010.

That's the real silver lining from Sunday night's loss and the weeks leading up to it. Yes, the Eagles are still in it, their playoff fate determined by how they fare over the final two games. But the excitement comes from the real possibility that, amid a season full of misjudging personnel, Kelly might have gotten his most important one, the quarterback, right after all.

On Twitter: @samdonnellon