As soon as the Minnesota Vikings’ rookie quarterback started putting regular-season stats to his name, the expectations were high for Bridgewater. In relief of the injured Matt Cassel in Week 3, Bridgewater started his season with an 83.3 rating against the New Orleans Saints and followed that up with a 98.9 rating against the Atlanta Falcons in his first start.
Then a shocking jolt of reality bit Bridgewater. When he returned from an ankle injury that kept him out for one game, his rating against the Detroit Lions was a paltry 41.3 when he took eight sacks. Against another stellar defensive front with the Buffalo Bills he improved only slightly, taking five sacks and a 56.1 rating. And last week, going against the last-ranked Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass defense, he took only one sack and posted an 81.5 rating.
“I think I’ve been struggling holding onto the football a lot and causing those guys to have to block for extra seconds,” Bridgewater said. “Coaches have been on me to get rid of the ball and play faster. The past three weeks, each week we’ve made those improvements.”
That has helped the grade sheets to improve, too.
“I always go back home later that Monday and just compare and contrast the previous week to the prior (weeks) or the previous game. I’m able to just look back and see some of the development I’m making, some of the progress,” he said. “But I also know that there’s still room for improvement. I have a long way to go and it’s a long season.”
Bridgewater excelled in one area Sunday – the two-minute drill. In a scoreless game late in the second quarter against the Buccaneers, Bridgewater and the Vikings got the ball back with 59 seconds to go. He completed 3 of 4 passes (including a spike to stop the clock) for 38 yards and put the Vikings in field goal range for a 3-0 halftime lead.
Needing another field goal to send the game into overtime, the Vikings got the ball with 1:57 left to play in regulation and Bridgewater was back at it. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 54 yards and once again got Blair Walsh in position for the field goal. Walsh made the 38-yard attempt as time in regulation expired, and the Vikings won the game on the first play of overtime when Bridgewater’s fellow first-round pick, linebacker Anthony Barr, scooped up a fumble he caused and returned it for the 27-yard touchdown.
“We practice those situations, two-minute situations, every week,” Bridgewater said. “Every Friday we go out and practice the two-minute drill. We’ve been having success in practice getting the communication called to the line and the guys have just been playing fast. It showed on Sunday. We were able to put together two two-minute drives at the end of the half and the end of the game when we needed points.” Bridgewater finished the game completing 24 of 42 passes for 241 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and took only one sack. But one-third of his completions, 29 percent of his attempts, and 38 percent of his passing yards came on only 10 percent of the time the Vikings possessed the ball in those two-minute, no-huddle situations.
“I’m able to just think less, just go out there and play pitch and catch,” he said. “I have to continue to remind myself to stop thinking so much. Our coaches are calling great plays, allowing me to think less but still me being a young guy and trying to be perfect, I find myself thinking too much.”
That may be contributing to the need for such dramatics late in the half and in the game. He’s hoping that will change.
“Hopefully this week it doesn’t have to be that exciting,” he said. “Hopefully we can get it done in the four quarters of regulation.”