It is something that takes time to develop, to nurture and to then embrace when a quarterback is new to a team, a locker room, a scheme and a city. We're seeing it now, in front of our very eyes with Sam Bradford.
The shift has been subtle in the context of March until now, but the process has been very much accelerated since Bradford returned from a concussion and left shoulder injury and led the Eagles to wins in New England and over Buffalo: This is now Sam Bradford's team as it heads down the stretch and hopefully toward the postseason.
"His efforts have been understated," tight end Zach Ertz said after Sunday's 23-20 thrilling victory. "The value of him to this team is second to none. When he's playing at a high level, I think everyone else on the offense is able to follow that, and I think he did that today.
"I think everyone looks to him as a leader. The past couple of games, he kind of stepped up before the game and delivered an unbelievable message to us. Every game he wants us to go out there and be physical and set the tone for the entire game, and I think that's what we've done for the past two games."
Said center Jason Kelce on Sunday: "Sam is getting better and better, just like everyone else. Sam, I think had a bit more to deal with coming into the season. He was coming into a new offense, a new system, coming off of two years of not playing football, being injured and being in a new city. There are a lot of things that he had to cope with early on. I think he is continually getting better and better, but that's everyone. Everyone in the offense really struggled at first, but now we are starting to jell and find out who we really are. We are getting better and better."
This is the first time all season, from this perspective, that you can hear it and see it and feel it with Bradford and the level of confidence he has and that his teammates and coaches have in him. Sure, of course, Bradford took the first-team reps throughout Training Camp and was the starter in Atlanta when the regular season began and he showed some encouraging growth among the speed bumps in the first half of the season, during which the Eagles went 4-4. That overtime touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordan Matthews to beat Dallas was a significant hint that Bradford was shaking of the rust of nearly two seasons of inactivity and two major knee injuries, and he was rolling in the game against Miami, having completed 19-of-25 passes, before he was KO'd for the remainder of that game and subsequent battles against Tampa Bay (bad loss) and Detroit (maybe even worse loss).
Bradford returned to the lineup against New England and had the most efficient 120-yard passing day in history (note hyperbole). Against a very good, complex and aggressive New England defense, Bradford threw a pair of red-zone touchdown passes and paced the Eagles to a much-needed win that, truly, kept the season alive. Then Bradford came back on Sunday and completed 23-of-38 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown, along with an interception that was more the product of a fabulous defensive play than any inaccuracy or mistake on his part.
And now this is Sam's Club, so to speak. It isn't just about his numbers -- he has completed 65 percent of his passes in his last four starts for 898 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception with a 96.9 rating -- or about his growing comfort in the locker room as a leader or the fact that the Eagles are 6-2 in the last eight games that he's started and finished (Miami is the game that he started and didn't finish). It's a combination of everything that has his teammates heaping praise on Bradford, has Chip Kelly talking about keeping Bradford around in the future and has the trained eye very much aware of the progress No. 7 has made on the field.
Off the field, in the locker room and in the halls of the NovaCare Complex, Bradford is much more at ease. Philadelphia was a smack-in-the-face culture shock for him coming from laid-back St. Louis. He's much more comfortable talking to every corner of the locker room. He's won his teammates' respect with the toughness and the resilience he's shown on the field. Bradford, a quiet guy by nature, is letting his personality show and he's been more vocal and emotional on gamedays.
It's all just coming together in a nice package for a player who had some prime years of his career taken away from him with the two ACL injuries.
Don't get it wrong here, though: It is not perfect. The Eagles offense, says Kelly, is a "work in progress" at this point. There are still too many misses among the hits. But still, everyone sees the improvement from the quarterback.
"I think his overall play has improved each week," said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis when Bradford was the NFL's No. 1 overall draft pick by the Rams. "I certainly expected it. I'm starting to see the things in him that I remember seeing when he was a rookie. It takes a while to come back from what he went through, and he's getting more and more used to the way we're doing things.
"Certainly, it was easy to connect the dots when he first got here, and he was very well aware of what we try to do offensively. But it just takes a little bit of time. Much like an offensive line working together, the quarterback with everything that he has on his plate along with getting himself really physically ready to handle it all, it just kind of takes a little bit of time. I think we didn't know what to expect as we moved along. Certainly, expectations are high whenever you're talking about an NFL football team and an NFL football player. But we just saw him getting better each day, and I think it's showing on Sunday."
It takes time, for sure. But the time is now. This is Sam Bradford's team. It's happening right now, just in time for the stretch run to the postseason.