EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — It's quite possible that the past two days of practices meant the most to Sam Bradford.
The quarterback, who has been sidelined since Week 5 with a knee injury that required surgery and resulted in his placement on Injured Reserve, returned to the practice field this week for two sessions with Vikings teammates.
With a bye in this weekend's first round of the playoffs, Minnesota Head Coach Mike Zimmer opted to have two practices that mainly focused on things the Vikings can improve before shifting their attention to the yet-to-be-determined opponent on Jan. 14.
Bradford smiled broadly before beginning a session with media in the Vikings locker room Wednesday and said the two days were "extremely important for me and very encouraging for me in my rehab process."
"Just to get back out there and to be able to practice and be with the team, it's been a lot of fun," Bradford said. "Obviously it's been something that I've been working extremely hard to be able to get back out there, so just to be able to be back out there and go through these two practices, it's been a lot of fun this week."
Bradford said being able to practice consecutive days was the initial goal of a plan that was a couple of months in the making.
"To be able to go out there yesterday and today and practice back-to-back days, I think that's just kind of the next step," Bradford said. "It's positive, it's encouraging for me to be able to go out there and do that, and I'm just kind of taking it one day at a time."
Bradford entered the season with much excitement from having his first offseason with the Vikings. It also marked just the second time in his professional career that he was working with the same offensive coordinator and not rehabbing an injury.
That excitement only grew when Bradford posted a career-best 143.0 passer rating by completing 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a 29-19 Week 1 win over New Orleans.
The problem, however, was that Bradford aggravated his knee that had been surgically repaired twice previously.
Bradford missed Weeks 2-4 and returned to start in Week 5 at Chicago but re-aggravated the injury at Soldier Field. Case Keenum again stepped in with aplomb, completing 17 of 21 passes for 140 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers against the Bears to start an eight-game win streak by the Vikings. Keenum went 11-3 as a starter and posted a career-best passer rating of 98.3.
Bradford has been working with Vikings Director of Sports Medicine Eric Sugarman and the athletic training staff since, and the Vikings have three weeks to evaluate Bradford before making a decision on his status. He does not count against the roster maximum of 53.
"It's been a progression. It's been something that we've kind of been building up to this point," Bradford said. "We put a lot of hard work in, our training staff, Sug', he's done a great job. And these past couple weeks, we've tried to simulate as much of a practice as we could, kind of on my own with him. I felt very confident going into these practices that it would feel good, and I think it responded well after yesterday, and I was able to go out there again today and practice."
Adam Thielen, who turned one of the best seasons by a Vikings receiver in team history, and Kyle Rudolph said it was good to see Bradford practicing again.
"It's been great having him in meetings all year because he's been a huge part of our success, as far as his input — how he thinks we can attack things as receivers," Thielen said. "It's great to have him back on the field."
Rudolph, who has rehabbed and played through an ankle injury the past three games, didn't practice this week, but he did watch the sessions on film.
"It was awesome. I obviously wasn't out there with, him but I immediately got on my iPad and watched practice, and it looks like he hasn't missed a beat," Rudolph said. "He's an elite quarterback, and he's had the success in his career for a reason.
"It's good to see him back out there and most importantly, it's good to see him healthy," Rudolph added. "I know it's been a hard year for him battling that knee, so it's good to see him out there feeling good."
Bradford encouraged Teddy Bridgewater through his extensive rehab of a knee injury that Bridgewater suffered in 2016. He's also been connected with the team in meetings and from the sidelines, relishing in being part of a 13-win NFL team for the first time.
"The way the team's played this year has been, I think it's been one of the positives for me," Bradford said. "Just knowing that the team is having success. It's been fun to be a part of this. Obviously I've never been part of a team that's won 13 games before, so just the feeling in the locker room during the week, the feeling of the locker room on game days, that's been really special for me to be a part of.
"My disappointment, I think once I started the rehab process, it was easier to push that aside because I was focused on trying to get myself back to playing," Bradford continued. "Really in the past eight weeks, every day I've come in here with a plan, trying to get better, trying to get myself back on the field, and I think having something to focus on really kind of takes your mind off of that."