From the moment the Minnesota Vikings traded back into the first round to take Teddy Bridgewater, it was only a matter of time before he took over as the team’s starting quarterback.
When Bridgewater makes his first start on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, he will be in line for something even bigger — the new face of the franchise.
With Adrian Peterson away from the team while he faces child abuse charges, the Vikings are searching for a new identity while the chaos from Peterson’s legal troubles and injuries to several high-profile players threaten to derail the team less than a month into the season.
In steps Bridgewater, the unflappable rookie, and all he has to do is pull the Vikings out of a spiral and step into the void left by Peterson’s departure.
No pressure, Teddy.
“It’s no pressure on me and it’s not all about me,” Bridgewater said Wednesday. “It takes a team effort to win football games and we have 11 guys on defense who are going to play their tails off. We have 11 guys on special teams and 10 other guys on the offensive side of the ball that are going to be out there competing for one another. There’s no pressure for me to have to fill the needs or anything. … It’s just all about the team.”
With quarterback Matt Cassel lost for the season with a foot injury and Peterson out indefinitely while the legal process plays out, the Vikings have become Teddy’s team much faster than anyone expected.
The Vikings traded back into the first round on the opening night of the draft to snag Bridgewater in hopes that he could finally become the long-term answer at quarterback the team has been searching for ever since Daunte Culpepper went down with a knee injury in 2005.
Peterson was expected to continue to be the team’s star player for at least another season or two, providing a cocoon for the young quarterback while he got his feet underneath him. That all changed two weeks ago with Peterson’s stunning arrest in a child-abuse charge in Texas.
Ready or not, it’s Teddy Time in Minnesota.
“Honestly,” head coach Mike Zimmer said, “I think he’s been ready since the day he walked in.”
The Vikings started the season with the veteran Cassel, hoping to ease Bridgewater’s transition and give him some time to get acclimated to NFL life. While Cassel was running with the starters, Bridgewater distinguished himself by not distinguishing himself at all.
Earlier on draft night, Minnesota attempted to trade up to No. 22 to grab Johnny Manziel, the flamboyant Texas A&M quarterback. But Cleveland outbid the Vikings, who then set their sights on Bridgewater.
While Manziel has drawn headlines for his party-hearty lifestyle off the field, Bridgewater has been whisper quiet in the meeting rooms and sound bite-proof in his interactions with the media.
“He doesn’t really get overwhelmed,” fullback Jerome Felton said. “He works hard. He’s humble. He comes prepared. So I think that’s the biggest thing. He prepares himself well. He’s in here early, leaves late, so he’ll be just fine.”
Bridgewater stepped in for the injured Cassel on Sunday and completed 12 of 20 passes for 150 yards against a New Orleans defense that played the pass very aggressively with Peterson gone. The offense didn’t score a touchdown with him in the game, but his ability to handle the heat carried over from his turns in the huddle during the preseason.
“I remember the first preseason game I asked Teddy whether he was nervous or not and of course he said no. And I thought, you know, he’s just a liar,” backup quarterback Christian Ponder said. “But the guy doesn’t get nervous. The guy has a ton of poise and played extremely well. I expect that to continue the next game and so on.”
When Bridgewater takes the field for his first game as a starter on Sunday against Atlanta (2-1), he won’t have Peterson to take his handoffs. He won’t have tight end Kyle Rudolph, who will miss about six weeks after having sports hernia surgery, to catch his passes and he won’t have starting right guard Brandon Fusco, who is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, to block for him.
He also won’t have a big entourage in the stands. Bridgewater said earlier this season — while he was still Cassel’s backup — he put six people, including his mother, girlfriend and agent, on a list to watch the game. Now that he’s starting, “the number hasn’t changed.”
“I gave myself a moment Monday morning,” Bridgewater said. “I woke up and told myself, ‘Hey, your dream is finally here and it’s coming true.’ It’s not the way that I wanted it to happen, but I’m still going to have to take advantage of this opportunity.
“It’s one thing to be named the guy, but for me I want to continue to just be the guy for a long time.”
Unflappable Bridgewater: ‘No pressure on me’
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