In his most recent win, a 29-26 decision against the Washington Redskins, Bridgewater engineered two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, one that gave the Vikings a 21-20 lead two minutes into the final period and the second that gave them a 29-26 lead with 3:27 to play.
The Vikings have talked about Bridgewater’s poise since selecting him at the end of the first round in May’s draft, but the rookie has seemed to shine brightest with the game on the line.
“I think I just told myself, just play football. And the coaching staff continued to remind me, Coach (Mike) Zimmer told me before the ball was even kicked off, ‘You don’t have to be perfect. Just play your game, just play football,’” Bridgewater said of his second-half performance against Washington. “I still find myself trying to be perfect throughout the course of a game. I have to continue to trust what I’m being told, trust the play-calling. We have a great group of guys here who have been doing a great job all year. … All I have to do is play my game and make it easy for our defense.”
All signs point to Bridgewater being best when it matters most.
When leading, he has a completion percentage of 42.9 and a rating of 51.5. When trailing, those balloon to a 63.2 completion percentage and 78.2 rating.
They increase even more in the final minutes of games when he is trailing – 66.67 completion percentage and 93.1 rating when trailing with less than four minutes to go, and 80 percent completion percentage and 109.2 rating when trailing with less than two minutes to go.
“Composure is big. We’d like for him to be ahead a little bit more, but I just think that the game is not too big for him,” Zimmer said. “He sits in there and understands what he has to get done. There’s a heightened sense of urgency, not just with Teddy but with everybody. We’d like to play like that a little more often than just in the fourth quarter, but I know it’s a stat that everybody loves to have. It’s important to win the ballgames. That’s the most important thing.”
Like Zimmer, Bridgewater said he would prefer not to be put in those situations as much as he has been.
“I don’t want to be that guy because that means we’re in a dogfight each week,” he said. “So I would rather us being able to come out in a victory formation at the end of the game and not have to scramble around and put together a 2-minute drill.”
Still, he has proven so far to be best in those final two minutes of a game when they trail.
“I think I’m just able to think less, play football, distribute the ball to the playmakers on the outside and those guys make plays,” he said. “I feel so comfortable in those situations because, like I said, we’ve been practicing them ever since (the start of offseason practices). I think I just feel comfortable because I know I have 10 other guys in the huddle with me who know what we need, know the situation and know how to respond.”
During the bye week, Bridgewater took time to study his game and came away “impressed” but seeing that he still has a lot of improvement to make.
He hopes that his entire game improves as he becomes more comfortable with the skill players around him, and he admitted once again that he has to learn to trust himself as much as anything.
“Feeling it and not seeing it. I have a tendency of wanting to see wide receivers open before I throw the football. Sometimes I have to just feel it and trust that guys are going to be in the right area at the right time,” he said.
“I think it’s more me just trying to be right and trying to be perfect. I want to see the throws to make sure that I’m going to be able to make the perfect throw instead of throwing an out-cutting route to an area and allowing the wide receiver to run up under the throw and make a catch.”