Bridgewater finds groove with best game yet

Teddy Bridgewater was accurate, efficient and even hit on a few deep passes, resulting in the best game of his rookie season to date.

Teddy Bridgewater had never sounded worse at the post-game podium than he did Sunday afternoon. His voice raspy and sinuses stuffy, Bridgewater had also never looked better on the field in the coldest game of his career in the previous hours.

“I think he’s getting more confident about moving in the pocket. To me, he buys a little bit more time,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “But I think his confidence really showed on that third-and-2. It’s third-and-2 and he’s throwing the ball 40 yards down the field and puts the ball on money. He got the right look. There was a couple times he had the right look defensively and went to the right place even though it wasn’t the safest throw so I think those kind of things are the things I’m talking about when I see his progression and he’s always getting better.”

Bridgewater said his health has been “something that I’ve been dealing with,” but him being under the weather didn’t affect his play in the seventh-coldest home game in Vikings history. It was 12 degrees at kickoff with a minus-7 wind chill.

He completed 71.4 percent of his passes, nearly 7 percentage points higher than any of the previous eight games he has played. He averaged 6.57 yards per attempt, better than any of his last six starts after returning from an ankle injury. He threw two touchdown passes for the second game in a row and has thrown at least one in each of his last six starts. And he finished with a 120.7 passer rating, the first time he has surpassed 100.

“I think I’m better at just making quicker decisions,” he said. “Earlier in the year I talked about getting rid of the ball faster. That wasn’t the issue. I think I just made quicker decisions and if I’m able to make quicker decisions I’m able to get the ball out faster.”

Because the Vikings blocked two punts and returned them both for touchdowns in the first half, their offense only had the ball for 8 minutes and 17 seconds of the first half. The rookie quarterback made the most of it. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 92 yards and threw both of his touchdowns as the Vikings built a 28-6 halftime lead.

Bridgewater finished the first half with a 136.1 rating.

If getting rid of the ball quickly was the key, then his touchdown pass to Greg Jennings epitomized it. It was only a quick-hitting 5-yard pass on an out route, but Jennings used a quick-stop move to elude one defender and find his path to the end zone with 16 seconds left in the first half.

“You talk about the touchdown that I threw to Greg Jennings, Greg did a great job of just knowing his route, understanding the protection and everything,” Bridgewater said. “I made the decision before the ball was snapped. … Each week I’m trying to make quicker decisions and continue to trust those guys each week.”

But after misfiring numerous times in the first half of last week’s matchup with the Green Bay Packers and failing to hit open receivers with consistency, Bridgewater was dramatically more accurate against the Panthers.

That was true in throwing deep passes, too.

With third-and-13 in the second quarter, Bridgewater hit Charles Johnson for 17 yards. On second-and-7 in the third quarter, he barely missed Johnson deep again, but four plays later, facing third-and-3, he threw deep right on the money for Jarius Wright for a 35-yard gain.

“I can’t say it was a step forward because I see this Teddy every week, in and out of practice,” Wright said. “It was good for ya’ll to get a chance to see this Teddy. We complete these passes and do the same thing every week in practice. He threw the ball with confidence today and we got an early start so I’m sure he was more comfortable.”

Zimmer said the timing of the passes was better and also credited the strength program for players getting stronger as the season has progressed.

“It worked so well today because we liked our matchup today. Carolina was playing man coverage and any time we get man coverage with Jarius Wright we like our chances, or with any of our receivers, but Jarius is a guy who can really stretch the field, especially when it’s against a nickel defender,” Bridgewater said.

The end result of Bridgewater’s work was a 31-13 win and the third-best passer rating by a Vikings rookie, with Fran Tarkenton holding the top two spots from 53 years ago.

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