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Sidelined quarterbacks cause NFL ripple effect

Sidelined quarterbacks cause NFL ripple effect
Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford looks on during the second half of a game against the Panthers on Sept. 18. (Bob Leverone / Associated Press)

Three of the NFL's most compelling stories this season involve quarterbacks who haven't taken a snap.

There's Jared Goff of the Rams, the No. 1 overall pick conspicuously missing from the parade of rookie quarterbacks who already have started games. There's no indication he'll be more than a spectator Sunday when the Rams play the New York Giants at Twickenham Stadium.

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Two other quarterbacks, Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater and Dallas' Tony Romo, have had a more significant impact. Both injured before the regular season, they are boulders plunked into a pond, sending ripples that in Bridgewater's case have extended beyond his franchise.

In response to Bridgewater's season-ending knee injury, Minnesota made a trade with Philadelphia for Sam Bradford, now at the helm of the league's only undefeated team. That created an opportunity for Eagles rookie Carson Wentz, the No. 2 pick, who ably stepped into the starting lineup despite playing just 38 snaps during the exhibition season. Minnesota plays at Philadelphia on Sunday.

On a conference call Thursday with Philadelphia writers, Bradford said the trade caught him flat-footed.

"It was completely off my radar," he said. "It just wasn't something that I was even thinking about. When I got that call on Saturday morning, I did a little double-take. I was like, 'What?' . . . You've just got to roll with it and make the best of any situation you're in."

Clearly, he has. The Vikings are 5-0, and his 109.7 passer rating is second to Atlanta's Matt Ryan (117.9) among quarterbacks who have started every game.

In exchange for Bradford, the Eagles got a first-round pick in 2017 and at least a fourth-rounder in 2018. More important, they have what appears to be a solid franchise quarterback in Wentz, who already is sounding like a seasoned pro. When asked about facing Bradford, he said: "I don't get caught up in that at all. It's Vikings vs. Eagles."

And next week it's Eagles vs. Cowboys, which understandably will be billed as Wentz versus fellow rookie Dak Prescott, who has done a remarkable job in Dallas filling in for Romo.

In the coming weeks, when Romo sufficiently recovers from his back injury, the Cowboys will be faced with some difficult math: two capable quarterbacks, one starting job. It's a problem that a lot of teams would love to have.

The pond ripples don't stop there. The Cowboys were going to run the ball anyway with top pick Ezekiel Elliott, but likely are doing more so with Romo on the sideline. In light of that powerhouse offensive line, and the looming threat of the mobile Prescott tucking the ball and taking off, the running lanes are popping up all over for Elliott, who leads the league with 703 yards rushing.

It isn't just Philadelphia and Dallas who have started rookie quarterbacks. New England and Cleveland have done so, too — the Patriots having to play third-stringer Jacoby Brissett and the Browns former USC standout Cody Kessler, both because of injuries. Goff has yet to make it off the bench, and at 3-3 and with five consecutive games decided in the fourth quarter, the Rams don't yet have the luxury to go through growing pains with a rookie. For the moment, it's up to veteran Case Keenum to make sure the wheels stay on.

The situations in Minnesota and Philadelphia have to give the Rams a truckload of food for thought. They traded Bradford to Philadelphia last year after making him the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. He played well for stretches in St. Louis, but couldn't stay healthy and had precious little continuity on the coaching staff.

Bradford is reaping the benefits of an outstanding defense in Minnesota, and is flourishing now that he isn't expected to be the franchise savior. Even though he's playing behind a cobbled-together offensive line — which is missing left tackle Matt Kalil — and without All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, Bradford is getting the job done.

Minnesota's Norv Turner wasn't an inspired head coach, but he's an exceptional offensive coordinator. Alex Smith realized that in San Francisco, where Turner gave him the first glimpse of the quarterback he could be, and now Bradford has found his second wind. There's a measure of irony in the fact that it was an injury — someone else's — that breathed new life into Bradford's career.

As for the Rams, they're getting a weekly reminder that they didn't select Wentz and instead took Goff, the first quarterback since Jamarcus Russell in 2007 to be taken No. 1 overall yet not start his rookie opener. Naturally, the Rams say they feel very good about using the top pick on Goff, but it can't be easy to see strong performances week after week by Prescott and Wentz.

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Still, Keenum is coming off a loss at Detroit in which he set a club record by completing 19 consecutive passes. That was soured, though, by his late interception that ended any hope of a comeback.

"What we're excited about is how the offense has started to ascend over the last couple of weeks," Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said.

The Rams lost those games, though, and still are looking to put together a complete performance. At the moment, the most intriguing part of the Goff story is — like Romo and Bridgewater — he has no story to tell.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesFarmer

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