Sam Bradford has been a lightning rod in St Louis, as any team's quarterback will be. Especially when that team struggles with consistency, and hasn't made the playoffs in years.
Fans have chided him for holding the ball too long, and for throwing it too quickly. Fans have berated his lack of deep passes, and for taking chances deep with (insert "bad" receiver here). Fans have berated his body language, his leadership, his decision making, and his vision. I'm a fan, and I've done all of these things.
I've also been a Bradford believer. I love to point out signs of his progress, or to put his struggles in appropriate context. Like anyone who stands with Bradford when he does well, I've caught subsidiary lightning strikes when he struggles next.
To my mind, this isn't flip-flopping. Bradford has deserved all of the criticism, because his talents are so abundant that fans should expect greatness. And Bradford should receive props (if not gushing praise) when he shows that greatness that we expect. For example: he was on pace for 32 TDs and 9 INTs. It would have been only the 15th QB season ever with more than 30 TDs and 10 or fewer INTs. That's "ever" as in "the entire history of the NFL." It's not a Super Bowl ring, but it would put him in company with championship caliber QBs, and it would be another step toward leading this team back to greatness.
Bradford deserves to be a lightning rod because he is a legitimate pro quarterback.
The team has not yet confirmed it publicly, but it looks as though the Rams are going to spend the rest of 2013 without a legitimate pro quarterback.
Source: Rams QB Sam Bradford has torn ACL.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) October 21, 2013
@RamsHerd I can confirm it.— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) October 21, 2013
This brings up Kellen Clemens, and along with him the bile of dozens of wasted football afternoons watching the likes of Kyle Boller, Keith Null, and AJ Feeley lead our team to ignominity and a high draft slot.
This brings up the painfully obvious fact that the Rams have failed to draft and groom a mini-me for Bradford, a guy who can operate the first couple gears of the offense without grinding out the clutch.
This brings up the fact that Johnny Hekker has now thrown the 2nd-most NFL passes of any healthy player on the Rams. (Granted, two out of those three passes were pretty good.)
This brings up the fact that we are going to hear names like Matt Leinert, John Skelton, Greg McElroy, Austin Davis, Tyler Wilson, Vince Young, and -- god help us -- Tim Tebow. We're going to hear about Josh Freeman and how he could have helped us. Saved us, even.
We are going to hear those names because the Rams no longer have a legitimate NFL quarterback.
We are also going to hear a lot of the names of the next generation of potential star QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, Marcus Mariota, Aaron Murray, etc. We are going to spend what remains of October and November worrying over draft position. That's goddamned depressing.
We know that anything the Rams accomplish from this point forward will be asterisked. There will be a line drawn in every player evaluation on the offensive side of the ball - "with Bradford" and "without Bradford." Contracts will be decided by how the team views these asterisks, no one's more than Bradford's himself.
Worst of all, we are going to have to hear even more stories about the city of St Louis's uncertain hold on the Rams, without Bradford's potential and the team's near and distant playoff hopes acting as ballast. With Stan Kroenke holding his negotiating cards ever tighter to his chest, the cold that we Rams fans are being left out in just got colder.
That is what we know will happen.
What might happen is that Jeff Fisher circles the wagons and coaxes a few surprising wins out of what remains of this season. What might happen is that, in the absence of their chess-match quarterback, Fisher urges a full-on return to Fisherball and Student Body Right. What might happen is something that falls short of the playoffs, but somehow manages to inspire, and reinstill faith in this team and its coaching staff.
And it could happen. Kellen Clemens is a tough old bastard who is not afraid to chuck the ball. Zac Stacy looks like a legitimate runner, and Isaiah Pead might even get a chance to untap his talents. All of the supporting talent that Les Snead acquired around Sam could have a collective wake-up call. The defense is still largely healthy, and has playmaking ability. The Rams still have more than a few winnable matchups on their schedule, even with a hobbled offense.
But there's no getting around the fact that this is now a changed season, and not for the better.
We are Batman, concussed and broken, and Bane stands over us, telling us the true nature of despair. He reminds us of this prison that we Rams fans have lived in for the past decade. It is not the prison itself that tears at one's soul. It is the hope of our ever escaping.