It was either the best thing or the worst thing that could happen to the Vikings over their first two preseason games – they’ve won them both thanks to strong play from their first-unit offense with Matt Cassel and second-half heroics from Teddy Bridgewater and the second-team offense.
From the moment the Vikings drafted Bridgewater, the Vikings have been in putting-out-fire mode. To a lesser extent than the force-feeding of Johnny Manziel on fans in Cleveland and probably a little more than the inevitable changing of the guard in Jacksonville with Blake Bortles, the Vikings are dancing on hot coals with their fan base and perhaps their own locker room.
Following Saturday’s win over Arizona, Greg Jennings was quick to leave the locker room as the media was waiting to gain entrance. As he walked away, he said with a broad grin, “Teddy Time!” – perhaps knowing what was coming when Cassel and Bridgewater were going to be prodded by the media.
A few minutes later, Cordarrelle Patterson repeated that same phrase, which could be interpreted two ways: either excitement as what the future holds or anticipating the questions from the media.
“I told Teddy, I think that drive made him the man of the city,” Patterson said of Bridgewater’s game-winning, drive with a touchdown toss. “I told him I used to be the man, but he just came and took over all my little shine that I had.”
Through two games, Cassel has done nothing to the surrender the starting spot. He has been efficient and put the Vikings on the board early to give the defense a lead to work with. Bridgewater has shown the promise that convinced the Vikings to trade back into the first round to acquire him. He clearly is the future.
Saturday’s game was the first time in franchise history that two quarterbacks have thrown more than 15 passes and both had a passer rating north of 125. For the preseason, Bridgewater is at 106.4 and Cassel is at 122.4.
Following the game, both guys said all the right things. Cassel said he is mentoring Bridgewater because, in the end, the ultimate goal is to make the team better. When asked directly about the “Teddy Time” quotes from two starting wide receivers, Bridgewater was quick to point out that he is still looking to improve and that he has been told that he is the No. 2 QB and that nothing has changed. Cassel is still the starter and he’s still the backup.
With the fans, obviously, it’s been another story. The fans at TCF Bank Stadium haven’t been chanting, “Matt! Matt!” when Cassel is in the game – even when he was leading the Vikings down the field for points. But every time Bridgewater has been in the game, the “Teddy! Teddy!” chants have been rampant. The fans have spoken … loudly.
To date, the voices in the locker room are toeing the company line – from Cassel and Bridgewater to their offensive teammates. But after Saturday’s game, it was clear that the Jennings and Patterson were exuberant about their backup, without mentioning anything about the starter who they have played the last two games with.
Is it merely a coincidence that, in the heat of the moment, they were expressing how impressed they have been with their new quarterback? Or is it a couple of key precincts being heard in the election of a starting quarterback?
From the national media perspective, all of the “experts” have been projecting that Cassel will get the starting nod to open the season, the Vikings will get crushed in the minefield that is the first five games on their schedule and Bridgewater will eventually become the starter midway through the season.
The flaw in that logic is obvious. The automatic assumption is that the Vikings are going to be 1-4 or somewhere in that low-rent neighborhood in early to mid-October. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no reason to rush Bridgewater into action. As players are wont to say, everything will work itself out.
The bigger issue, especially for a new head coach and offensive coordinator, is that players don’t have votes on who starts and who doesn’t, but they often think they do. They have the expertise to evaluate quarterbacks and their decision-making process, but when it comes to making those calls, that is out of their control. The worst thing that could happen, as Vikings fans remember from a couple of years ago, would be a schism in the locker room – half the offensive players supporting Cassel and half supporting Bridgewater.
The good news for the Vikings is that both Cassel and Bridgewater have played well enough to make a claim that they should be the starter. The bad news is that the fans have spoken in support of Bridgewater. It’s only if that feeling seeps its way into the locker room that there could be the potential for players taking sides.
It’s a good problem to have, but one that could have negative impacts if both continue to blur the line between being the starter and being the backup, especially if both play well Saturday night at Kansas City.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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