Young Bridgewater efficient in 41-28 win

Teddy Bridgewater’s poise shined through in a 41-28 Vikings win.

Youth is being served well for the Minnesota Vikings.

Teddy Bridgewater made his first start for the Vikings, even if he couldn’t finish it because of a fourth-quarter ankle injury in a 41-28 win.

At 21 years old, Bridgewater completed 19 of 30 passes for 317 yards and was aided by a suddenly resurgent running game that helped overcome some of Minnesota’s defensive deficiencies.

“I think it sets the bar pretty high,” Bridgewater said of his 300-yard game. “But coach Norv Turner, he always talks about playing a week better, playing better than the week before. For me, I just have to try to build off the momentum that I have.”

But with an MRI coming Sunday night on the ankle injury that took him out of the game in the fourth quarter, it will be an extremely short week for Bridgewater. The Vikings travel to Green Bay to face the Packers (2-2) on Thursday night.

X-rays were negative on Bridgewater’s ankle at TCF Bank Stadium and he returned to the sidelines for the final series and was walking on it. However, an MRI was scheduled after he left the stadium and he said he would be in the training room Sunday night.

“I told him he would be fine,” head coach Mike Zimmer joked.

Another rookie draft pick, running back Jerick McKinnon, rushed 18 times for 135 yards in his first extensive action, and Matt Asiata added 78 yards on 20 carries as the Vikings improved to 2-2 for the season. Jarius Wright set a career high with eight catches for 132 yards, including a 52-yarder.

“All I had to do was drop back and get the ball in those guys’ hands – guys like Jarius Wright, Greg Jennings make plays for this team,” Bridgewater said.

Bridgewater is the youngest Vikings quarterback to start a game since Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, who was 21 years, 266 days old. Bridgewater is just 21 years, 322 days. It’s also the earliest in a season a rookie quarterback has started a game since Tarkenton started in Week 2 in 1961.

Bridgewater was sharp from the start until he left the game in the fourth quarter.

Bridgewater started with a touchdown drive that was kept alive with a short completion to Wright on the Vikings’ first third down of the game that Wright turned into a 52-yard gain into the red zone. On the next third down, Bridgewater hit Wright again for a 6-yard completion. From there, Asiata bulled into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Falcons responded with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped with a 24-yard pass to Roddy White when cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson blew a coverage, biting up on the receiver in the flat and leaving White uncovered to tie the game with 3:56 to play in the first quarter.

Unfazed, Bridgewater led another touchdown drive following a 49-yard kickoff return from Cordarrelle Patterson to start the drive. A couple of Asiata runs got the ball across midfield and a 29-yard pass to Jennings put them inside the red zone. But Asiata bulled through the defense for his second touchdown of the game to put the Vikings back in front, 14-7, as the game moved to the second quarter.

But on the next drive, Blair Walsh missed a 49-yard field goal attempt and the Falcons took advantage of good field position and bad third-down defense by the Vikings. Julio Jones converted third-and-10 and third-and-20 against the Vikings as the Falcons went 61 yards on 13 plays, with a blown coverage on first-and-goal accounting for a Patrick DiMarco touchdown reception.

Bridgewater was unaffected. He hit tight end Rhett Ellison for a 19-yard completion and Wright for 21 yards before finishing the drive with a 13-yard touchdown scramble for a 21-14 lead with 1:59 to play in the half.

When the Vikings defense held, Bridgewater led them on another scoring drive, highlighted by completions of 17, 25 and 17 yards on consecutive plays. However, a McKinnon touchdown was overturned and the Vikings settled for a field goal on third down with 2 seconds left for a 24-14 halftime lead.

Bridgewater led the Vikings on a field goal drive to start the second half for a 27-14 lead, but the Falcons responded with a touchdown. Once again, it was the third-down defense that let the Vikings down. Facing-and-7, Ryan unloaded a short pass for Devin Hester. Munnerlyn had him squared up, but Hester slipped through the attempt and went 36 yards for the touchdown.

The Falcons followed that up with another touchdown with a 48-yard run by Antone Smith for their only lead of the game, 28-27.

The Vikings couldn’t answer on their next drive, but Bridgewater was effective and efficient in his first drive of the fourth quarter. He hit Jennings for 29 yards and Patterson for 29 yards, then Wright for 15. Asiata finished it with his third touchdown run of the game for a 35-28 lead.

Two Walsh field goals later and the Vikings had the 41-28 win.

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