Sam Bradford needed just three plays Thursday to do what Sam Bradford does during an Eagles' preseason: He chews bubble gum, kicks tail, completes passes, and leads touchdown drives.
Kenny Bell, a wide receiver/return man for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had lost a fumble on the opening kickoff, giving the Eagles the ball at the Bucs' 18-yard line, and the one thing you don't do is give Sam Bradford a short field in a preseason game, because he will make you pay. And he did: a 3-yard completion to Brent Celek, two handoffs to Ryan Mathews, and presto: Eagles touchdown.
Having proved that his legendary 10-for-10, three-touchdown performance last year against the Green Bay Packers was no fluke, Bradford then took the rest of Thursday night off, courtesy of his rookie head coach, Doug Pederson. As opening acts go - let's face it, everyone at Lincoln Financial Field was there to see Carson Wentz and the Pattison Avenue Third-Teamers - Bradford and the Eagles' first-team offense were just fine. They hit the right notes in the Eagles' 17-9 victory, and they exited without sustaining any major injuries or performance-enhancing-drug suspensions.
That second (relative) achievement gained more importance over the previous two days with the drip-drip-drip of information and rumor that Lane Johnson could miss the regular season's first 10 games to a second violation of the league's PED policy. Johnson is not merely the Eagles' starting right tackle. He is their prospective left tackle of the future, the successor to Jason Peters. So if we assume for the sake of simplicity that the league does suspend Johnson, then Pederson was right to keep his offensive starters on the field so briefly. There was no sense in maximizing the risk of losing a key player on an offense that doesn't have much depth. For instance, Matt Tobin, usually a backup lineman, started at left tackle in place of Peters, who has been dealing with a quadriceps problem that may or may not be tied to a recurrence of back spasms that hampered him last year. As it was, the Eagles announced that guard Brandon Brooks, another starter, left Thursday's game with a biceps injury, although it didn't at first appear to be serious.
Pederson had hinted earlier in the week that he had no rigid plan about how long the No. 1 offense would stay in Thursday's game. "If it's like a three-and-out deal, I would probably keep the ones in there for a little bit longer," he had said Monday. "It all just depends on how many plays they get. I don't have a set number of plays." The upshot of pulling his starters so quickly was that he got a longer look at the backups who will vie for playing time or may have to step into the lineup sometime during the season. Of course, the downside of pulling his starters early was that he got a longer look at his backups. They were unimpressive, to put it gently.
Chase Daniel, the second-string quarterback whom the Eagles signed presumably to be a long-term tutor for Wentz, made it apparent why they felt they needed to keep Bradford. He completed four of his 10 passes for just 15 yards and was sacked four times, though in fairness, there were some extenuating circumstances. The offensive linemen didn't appear to have much ability to protect him, and in one delicious sequence, Daniel's best play of the night was nullified by the renowned unreliability of two of the Eagles' receivers.
On third and 5, Daniel found Josh Huff on a crossing route for a first down, but Huff fumbled the ball forward. Rueben Randle, whom the New York Giants allowed to leave after last season because he tended to forget or disregard the pass patterns he was supposed to run, then batted the ball out of bounds - a 10-yard penalty. (Why a wide receiver's initial instinct was not to receive - i.e. grab the ball - only Randle knows.) On the next play, the Buccaneers' Howard Jones zoomed around right tackle Andrew Gardner to sack Daniel.
It wasn't long thereafter that the "We want Wentz" chants began, which was really the lone reason for any intrigue in Thursday's game. Even those of us who believe that the Eagles' insistence that Wentz will not play at all this season is mostly bunk - I'd put the over-under at Week 10 - know that he's not playing Week 1 unless both Bradford and Daniel are injured. Pederson did his best to make sure of that Thursday, at least with Bradford. After three plays and a touchdown, enough was enough.
"You would love to see points out of that first unit," Pederson had said. "You want to see a high percentage of completed throws [and] moving the chains. . . . Just be nice and smooth, relaxed, and have fun out there."
Hey, it's the preseason. Smooth, relaxed fun is all Sam Bradford knows this time of year.