We knew this time would come. When the Minnesota Vikings traded with the Seattle Seahawks up to the 32nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to take their Quarterback of the future, it was not a matter of “if” but “when” he’d take the reigns.
That when has morphed to now, as the Vikings announced today that starter Matt Cassel is heading to injured reserve following a nasty foot injury this past weekend versus the New Orleans Saints. Having Teddy start this early this season was not the developmental plan, though. The Vikings started the off-season saying this would be a true QB competition, but it became apparent as the pre-season progressed that this would be Cassel’s job to lose. He very simply did nothing to lose it during those fake games (even though Bridgewater looked very good as well.) In an ideal purple-world, Cassel would have started this year, played “good enough” and then the Vikings brass would then likely hand the job to Bridgewater next year. Plans rarely go as you’d hope though.
Bridgewater entered the game last week versus the Saints early in the second quarter following a dominant first portion of the contest by New Orleans. Drew Brees and company sped to a 13-0 start and a route appeared to be on. Teddy (along with improved defensive play from the first two Saints-drives) stopped the bleeding. Bridgewater made things interesting and he displayed the composure, evasiveness in the pocket and ability to progress through reads that he was known for as a Louisville Cardinal. The Vikings went on to lose 20-9, but it looked like it was going to be much worse than that. The end stat line doesn’t pop for Teddy, but he notched 12 of 20 passes for 150 yards and zero touchdowns or interceptions. He did display the ability to enter a game in a tough environment and NOT have it look too big for him. He took what he was given, and even displayed some above-average wheels if the defense gave him a running lane.
The Vikings now sit 1-2, still in the thick of a muddled NFC North race as their rookie QB takes control of the switchboard. In his brief debut, Teddy provided hope for this season and a glimpse to the future as he navigated blitzes and pressure better than you would’ve expected in that “throw him to the wolves” situation. This week, the 21 year old will get his first career start against a Matt Ryan-led Atlanta Falcons team that just crushed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14. The Falcons do rank near the bottom of the league in pass defense, so Bridgewater should have a good shot to put up some solid numbers and keep his team in it. It also helps that it’s a home game, as there will surely be a sonic boom of “Teddy” chants throughout TCF Bank Stadium.
As Teddy looks to march up and down the field, he will be without some very helpful pieces to do so. He’ll remain without Adrian Peterson, one of the best Running Backs of all time as he goes through his legal process. He’ll also miss towering safety-valve and Pro Bowl Tight End Kyle Rudolph who suffered an injury last week and will likely miss six-plus weeks. In addition to Rudolph being out, one of the offensive line’s most reliable pieces, Guard Brandon Fusco also will be absent as he has been shelved for the year due to a pectoral-tear injury. Add in the puzzlingly terrible play of former top five pick Tackle Matt Kalil and that’s a lot of negatives that Teddy and his teammates will be dealing with come Sunday.
On the bright side, Bridgewater still has some very usable weapons at his disposal. Teddy himself said it’s not about focusing on what they don’t have, but “taking advantage of what we have.” Wide Receiver Greg Jennings is still a super-savvy route runner, which will appeal to the constant-field-scanner that is Teddy. Running Back Matt Asiata is about as far from Peterson as it gets, but he has shown to be a great pass blocker, (which will be needed minus Fusco and dealing with a shaky Kalil) and a reliable dump-off recipient for Bridgewater, who has been known to take what he’s given, rather than gambling and forcing the issue. Then there is the tantalizing human pinball Wide Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. After an absurd touchdown run in week one versus the St. Louis Rams, it seemed as if Patterson was about to rocket himself into the super-starry atmosphere. But, since then, somehow his usage has seemed to decline. Look for Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner to realize he needs to see the ball more, and to utilize Patterson’s ridiculous yards-after-catch skills with some quick hits from Bridgewater. Moving forward, the outlook is murky with all of the injuries, but the man in charge of the Vikings, Mike Zimmer has improved the defense to a point where they should remain “in” games. As opposed to last year, it doesn’t appear that they should encounter the back-breaking defensive collapses that they did during the Leslie Frazier regime.
It’s been a wild ride for Teddy: from the infamous Pro Day hysteria during the pre-draft process, to now, a starting NFL Quarterback. I can’t remember a player so strangely polarized AFTER the games were played. Between #DraftTwitter banter and NFL Scouts widely different assessments, and arguing on-field results against Pro Day throws it’s good to get to this point where he can just go out and show us on the field. Teddy can now realize his dream of starting in the NFL.
You may think that he’d be feeling a lot of pressure right now, but you’d likely be wrong. After all, even-keeled Teddy’s nickname is G.U.M.P. (great under major pressure.) More importantly, he’s got the confidence of his Head Coach. Today Mike Zimmer said, “honestly I think he’s been ready since the day he walked in.” We’re about to find out.
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