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Sam Bradford’s second knee injury derailed the final era of the St. Louis Rams. But what if it didn’t?

What if Sam hadn’t suffered a re-injury of his knee in 2014?

St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford is helped to his feet after re-tearing his ACL in a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, Aug. 23, 2014.
St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford is helped to his feet after re-tearing his ACL in a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, Aug. 23, 2014.
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Sometimes, one play, one moment, one decision can change everything — or maybe only a little bit. Either way, it can be fun to imagine the various timelines if one thing had gone differently. SB Nation NFL is looking at those hypotheticals, alternate universes, and made-up scenarios in our second annual “What If?” week. You can follow along with every story here.

In the third game of the preseason in 2014, St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford re-injured his ACL making him unavailable for the entire season.

Bradford had initially tore his ACL against the Carolina Panthers in 2013 in Week 7, Oct. 20. The Rams opted not to draft a fallback option in the 2014 NFL Draft instead opting to invest in Bradford’s return to health.

That gamble failed in the 2014 preseason when Bradford re-injured his knee leaving the Rams with QB Shaun Hill and QB Austin Davis after signing and cutting QB Case Keenum before trading for him a year later to start in front of QB Jared Goff after trading up to take him with the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, a balance of which they immediately mishandled in Week 1 when team sources and former Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher misleadingly suggested Hill suffered an injury to his quadricep throwing the ball out of bounds to end the first half. If that was the point the season derailed, it was only sent on those tracks because of the Bradford injury.

The saga clearly did not work to the Rams’ favor in any way strategically.

Which leads to an obvious question given this week’s theme.

What if Sam Bradford had never re-injured his knee?

What if that hit (or the hit before, possibly) hadn’t re-torn Bradford’s knee? What if he had simply been sacked, gotten up and headed back to the huddle? What if the Rams still had their main man on offense heading into 2014?

The Rams were able to put together a 6-10 season in Bradford’s absence with Hill and then Davis and then Hill holding down the most important position in the sport. They started out 1-4 before working their way back to a 6-7 record only to lose the last three games. This was a team close to breaking through that despite finishing 16th in points allowed and 17th in yards allowed an offseason later would have Andy Benoit then of SI’s MMQB suggesting the Rams’ defense was primed to be the NFL’s best (spoiler: it wasn’t).

So as we consider, “What if,” consider these quotes from after that fateful game.

From Fisher:

I’m very optimistic for [Bradford’s] quick return.

He’s fine. He’s upbeat.

It appeared to be just a hyperextension of the same knee.

And from former Rams WR Brian Quick:

I was a little nervous about it, but everything is all right. Sam told me that he is OK.

And this initial tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter:

The Rams didn’t look to back up Bradford in 2014 with a legitimate option. They ended up needing one.

But what if they didn’t?

What if Bradford hadn’t been injured on that play? Would he have been able to put together a more competent offensive showing in 2014 overall? Bear in mind, the 2015 NFL Draft thereafter was the one in which the Rams took RB Todd Gurley and a host of offensive linemen only to see their offense get markedly worse before the 2016 NFL Draft in which they traded up for Goff only to, again, see their offense get markedly worse. Had Bradford stayed healthy, might the Rams have carved a different path out of 2014?

And beyond?

What if?