When the Cardinals scored on a bizarre play in which the Cardinals botched the snap, rolled the ball out of the ensuing scrum and scored an improbable touchdown, it looked as though the Vikings’ late-game woes had followed them to TCF Bank Stadium.
But Teddy Bridgewater and Rodney Smith had other ideas.
Smith hadn’t caught a pass the entire game prior to the final drive, but caught four passes in the next 48 seconds of clock time, including the game-winning TD.
What made the drive so scintillating was that it was made to look so easy. The scenarios the team has practiced all spring and summer came into play in the last minute and everyone played with poise.
“We work on those types of plays and end-of-game situations every week,” Smith said. “There was no panic at all. We just had to go out and do our best to execute.”
A year ago, that may not have been the case. Smith has gained confidence by being forced to absorb a much more complicated offensive scheme and he has witnessed his own success by mastering the playbook in increments as he has gone along.
“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Smith said. “It’s a big offense and it takes time to learn. I’ve just been working to get the offense down pat and it’s coming together for me.”
When it came to the critical game-winning play, Smith wasn’t the first option, but Bridgewater reminded him to keep his eyes and ears open because it may be coming his way. When Bridgewater saw the defensive alignment, his pre-snap comment made more sense.
“When we left the huddle, Teddy just told me to be ready,” Smith said. “Once I heard the call, I had my mind set because I knew I was going to be one on one.
The Vikings had been working on precisely that type of play in practice and Bridgewater’s eyes lit up when he saw a cornerback on an island with Smith.
“Early in the week, I told Rodney that if we call that play and you’re one-on-one,” Bridgewater said, “it just so happened that was the play that won the game. Rodney made a great play and I take my hat off to him.”
Smith saw the same thing Bridgewater did and, while he wasn’t sure how the defender would attack him, he knew one thing – Bridgewater would throw him a pass that could be caught.
Bridgewater wasn’t jumping up and down after his comeback touchdown. He was one of the few in the stadium who didn’t. He saw it as executing the game plan with precision and efficiency and shared the credit with not only his teammates on the field, but also those watching on the sidelines.
“It’s great being able to finish the game that way, but the guys around me made it happen also,” Bridgewater said. “It was a great overall performance from the entire unit. Even the veterans were supporting the guys when they were coming to the sidelines – giving us advice on what to expect the next series. It was just a great team performance.”
Whether Saturday’s game serves as a springboard for Bridgewater to get into the lineup is unclear. After all, it was a preseason game. But he made a believer out of fans at the game and Smith as well, who felt the Vikings should be justified in swinging the draft day trade that brought Teddy Football to Minnesota.
“It was unbelievable,” Smith said. “He’s a big-time player. They drafted him in the first round for a reason and he just showed them that he was well worth it.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.