By the time the fourth quarter began on Sunday night against the Cardinals, quarterback Sam Bradford had been knocked down a half-dozen times, once hard enough on his tender left shoulder that he had to leave the game for a play until the throbbing subsided.

The score was already 30-10 and it would be hard to blame Bradford if he had enjoyed about as much of the evening as he could stand. So when Jason Peters couldn't contain his assignment on the left side of the line and Bradford stepped up only to see an untouched blitzing linebacker about to lay him out again, what happened next has to be placed in context.

Bradford dropped his arm to three-quarters and threw a back-footed pass in the general direction of running back Ryan Mathews, who was about to make a cut and head for the right flat. The ball was thrown so poorly behind Mathews that it could have been mistaken for a play in which the receiver turned the wrong way. The ball hit Arizona safety Deone Bucannon squarely in the midsection, and he caught it and returned it for a touchdown. If the story of the game had already been written before that, the interception put an exclamation point on the final sentence.

Chip Kelly has been consistent in his praise of Bradford's play in the second half of the season, and said last week the team wants to keep the quarterback beyond this year, but he didn't pad the corners of that interception when he broke it down on Monday.

"I don't know what went on in Sam's head. We'll meet with him tomorrow and go over the film with him in terms of where he was," Kelly said. "It wasn't an option where they weren't on the same page. He was responsible to get to the flat, the running back was."

What Sam was thinking, in all probability, was that if linebacker Alex Okafor didn't snap his head back with a blindside hit, then Kevin Minter, the blitzing linebacker, was going to pile-drive him into the ground. And he was thinking - absolutely no disrespect intended - that either one was going to really hurt.

There is still at least one meaningful game remaining in what has been an overall disappointing season, one more chance for Bradford to keep alive the hope that his career shift from St. Louis to Philadelphia wasn't a bad move for both sides. After that game, or after the next game, or after that, if you insist, then Bradford will drift toward free agency and the Eagles will have a decision to make. Of course, so will Bradford.

Putting aside the possibility that the Eagles use a franchise tag - and $25 million - to keep him for one more season, it is just as likely that Bradford will be the one who wants to end the marriage.

He finds himself playing for a team that doesn't value keeping elite wide receivers and pays scant attention to putting together an offensive line to protect the quarterback. On top of that, he is running a system that isn't designed for his skill set and doesn't allow him the opportunity to either lead the offense from the huddle or direct his options at the line of scrimmage. Oh, here's a bonus. The other teams have figured it out.

"Well, you know with Philly, whatever they run in the first 15 plays, they are kind of going to keep running those same plays," Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "Out of those first 15 plays, when the game actually settles down, then we can scan and look at the formation and [know] what they are going to do."

Bradford is not thinking all those things as the protection breaks down and the bad men are arriving to julienne him again for the hot potato in his hands, but the thoughts have all crossed his mind. His season had a few bright spots, but his rating is the lowest in the league (83.8) among all the starting quarterbacks from this past weekend. The. Lowest.

There is little evidence to suggest the situation will improve if Bradford chooses to negotiate a new contract and stay. This is the NFL, so he will be able to find another job, particularly since (not to jinx you, Sam) his twice-repaired knee ligament held up for the whole season.

Bradford's excitement level toward coming back for another season of mental and physical punishment can't be terribly high and it would be interesting to see, if the Eagles are eliminated by the Redskins on Saturday, if the quarterback who is still recovering from his last injury even made himself available for a meaningless finale against the Giants.

That's a question for another time because the end hasn't yet arrived. It could be close, though, as could be the end for Sam Bradford of more than just the season.

@bobfordsports