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Eagles' Sam Bradford is healthy and playing well

Baring an unforeseen setback, Sam Bradford will make his 13th start of the season when the Eagles host the Redskins. For those that bet the over on Bovada's propositional line of 121/2 starts for the oft-injured quarterback, there will be a belated Christmas gift.

Barring an unforeseen setback, Sam Bradford will make his 13th start of the season when the Eagles host the Redskins. For those that bet the over on Bovada's propositional line of 12 1/2 starts for the oft-injured quarterback, there will be a belated Christmas gift.

Bradford has missed two games, but not because of his surgically repaired left knee. That doesn't mean the twice-torn anterior cruciate ligament that caused him to miss almost two years of football hasn't had a residual effect.

On Wednesday, Bradford revealed that his knee was sore coming out of training camp and into the early part of the season. While that may seem obvious after back-to-back rehabs, the Eagles had avoided linking his early-season woes to the knee.

But Bradford has clearly been a different quarterback over the last two months compared with the first two. A growing familiarity with the offense and his teammates, he said, has had an influence on his performance. But trusting his left knee - on his plant leg - has been just as beneficial.

"Even though I went through everything, it was still maybe a little sore coming out of training camp," Bradford said. "And I just feel like it's gotten stronger as the year has gone on. But also I just feel like I have more confidence.

"I think until you get out there and actually play in a live game and take some hits, I think you're always a little cautious. And I think it took me getting out there and doing that to really trust it."

Bradford hasn't been a completely different quarterback post-bye week vs. pre-bye week, but he's clearly been a better one. It is why Chip Kelly essentially endorsed the notion last week that he will make every effort to sign the 28-year old before he hits free agency in March.

In his first seven games, Bradford completed 62 percent of his passes for 252 yards a game, with nine touchdowns and ten interceptions for a 76.4 passer rating. In his last five games, he has completed 66.5 percent, averaged 252 yards, and tossed seven touchdown and three interceptions for a 96.1 rating.

But numbers don't tell the full story. Bradford is tossing strikes on throws that were balls early in the season. He's anticipating routes, throwing into tight windows and keeping his eyes downfield amid pressure.

There are still shaky moments that suggest Bradford might not be worth what it may take to sign him long-term. And there are still two games left, starting with Saturday's must-win if the Eagles are to have any hope of making the postseason.

But four of Bradford's best throws against the Cardinals on Sunday came on third down just before he was hit. In the first meeting with the Redskins in October, he was sacked five times. Some were on the offensive line, but Bradford was culpable for others.

"I watched the tape and there were some parts that looked pretty ugly just as far as mechanics, footwork," Bradford said. "I feel like I've come a long ways since that point."

Bradford had his best deep ball game until that point. And he didn't turn the ball over. But his footwork was choppy. He hardly ever stepped up in the pocket. And there were times when his line of vision dipped and he looked at the rush.

He started to develop this habit later in his tenure with the Rams. Injuries and the beating he took playing behind a subpar line took a toll. Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was with Bradford for his rookie season in St. Louis.

"Sam's not a burly guy. But I'm telling you, he's extremely courageous," Shurmur said. "When you can see a quarterback keep his eyes downfield when he knows he's going to take a pretty good whack, that's what you're looking for. When a quarterback's eyes start to drop, then you got problems."

Bradford's eyes hardly drop anymore. But they did early in the fourth quarter of the Cardinals game. There was pressure on his left edge. He was blindsided and fumbled earlier, so his unease was understandable. But Bradford peeked, looked up and saw another rusher in his face and threw hurriedly to Ryan Mathews.

But Mathews wasn't there. Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon was, and he intercepted Bradford and scored. Bradford tossed another late pick, but Kelly said he didn't hold it against his quarterback because of the Eagles' large deficit.

"I think he played really well [up until the first interception]," Kelly said, "so I don't really look at it as three quarters versus four quarters."

Bradford completed 22 of 30 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown up until that point. Some of the throws were elite level.

He threw into a tight window on third down and nine and Jordan Matthews galloped for 30 yards. He connected again with Matthews on third and 13 on a 14-yard out. He completed a 21-yard back shoulder pass to Brent Celek on third down. And he hit Josh Huff for a 22-yard out, throwing from his own end zone with pressure in his face on third and 15.

"You're starting to see a comfort level with the guys [he's] throwing to," Shurmur said. "I think that's running parallel with the fact that he's healthier now, in my opinion, he's in better control of his own body, and he's much more aware of what the receivers are going to do."

Bradford agreed.

"I think it's trust on both parts," he said about the relationship between him and his receivers.

But trust in his knee could be paramount.