The Minnesota Vikings were forced to deploy their next electric rookie phenom ahead of schedule.
An injury to the foot of starting quarterback Matt Cassell set rookie Teddy Bridgewater into motion, as he immediately began to warm-up on the sideline during the second quarter of the recent loss to the New Orleans Saints. There were no wide eyes from Bridgewater in that moment, just the same smooth, even-keeled professionalism that has come to be his trademark.
For a disheartened Vikings’ following, the spark and rhythm Bridgewater injected into the team’s offense was just the heart medication needed. His final statistics were both handsome (for a rookie) and pedestrian (for a starting quarterback), but his command of the team was without question. Bridgewater finished with 150 yards passing, 27 yards rushing, and most importantly, no interceptions.
Of my own concerns for identifying Bridgewater’s potential weaknesses, he squashed the notion of possibly having a “glass chin”, by quickly and confidently rising from being sacked (twice), hurried, or knocked down. Bridgewater’s slight frame (6’2″ 210lbs) is an obvious concern in the injury prone sport of football. Rookies typically have a need to pick up some “man weight” in order to weather the rigors of a full NFL seasons (I recommend the prime rib at Nye’s).
In addition to his resilience, Bridgewater showed the curiously difficult art of sliding smoothly to the turf when defenders close in to tackle him. This is perhaps one of the most comforting elements to his game, since the best way to protect a slight frame is to not get hit.
From the standpoint of actual passing performance, Bridgewater was accurate, patient and decisive. The greater strength of mobile quarterbacks comes be the way of their ability to throw accurately on the run. Just as in the pre-season, Bridgewater passed that test with patient flare. His ability to throw accurately from compromised positions makes for the type of band-aids needed to glue together the outlook for an offense shattered by the loss of running back Adrian Peterson.
Unfortunately, as if Bridgewater needed any more obstacles, all-pro caliber tight end Kyle Rudolph will be missed for several weeks recovering from surgery for a sports hernia.
A comfortable relationship passing to veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings is proving to be the most successful part of the offense thus far with Bridgewater at the helm. Budding superstar wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has delivered a few flashes of greatness running the ball, but his presence in the passing game will be critical to provide some dynamics, and the explosive plays Vikings fans have come to expect with Peterson in the game.
Most importantly, the presence of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, likely a future Hall of Fame inductee as a coaching executive, is the best blanket the Vikings have to nurture its young quarterback to the level of a very good or great quarterback. Certain calls by the offense at critical points in the seasons’ games have been refreshingly intelligent in comparison to recent years. Even the transition at running back, without Peterson, nor an established veteran back-up, hasn’t been a disaster or discontinued effort. Turner is taking what pieces he has and managing to keep the ball moving down the field, though turnovers have thwarted several drives.
If Bridgewater can avoid injury, and the rash of interceptions that quickly plagued Cassell this year, then the Vikings may be able to make sugar out of (Adrian Peterson not playing). Bridgewater seems like the right man for the job.