“Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!” the chant resonated from the TCF Bank crowd hoping that the Minnesota Vikings’ long, unsuccessful search for a franchise quarterback might soon be over. For Bridgewater, it was the just beginning. It went downhill from there before it began to get better.
But, slowly, surely, it has gotten better.
Bridgewater didn’t throw an interception in that first start, but that didn’t seem to matter. The Vikings had pulled their record to .500, even if we didn’t recognize at the time that their two wins had come against teams that wouldn’t have any better record than the Vikings themselves at this three-quarters point of the season.
In that initial 98.9 passer rating against the Falcons, Bridgewater hurt his ankle, didn’t play the next week and then showed why rookie quarterbacks struggle to find consistency. Upon his return from a one-game absence, he put up ratings of 41.3 (yuck!) and 56.1 (ugh!).
The chants of “Teddy!” grew a bit weaker with many starting to wonder if this really would be the Savior from the South that could thrive in the North. Even after his first impressive start, his mother Rose cautioned him and others.
“I think the fans of Minnesota, they are the best and just the reception and how the people welcome him,” Rose said after Teddy’s first start. “Like I always tell him, they chant out ‘Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!’ and I always tell him, ‘It’s Minnesota! Minnesota! Minnesota!’ If you wouldn’t have the receivers, if you wouldn’t have all of that, I know the people of Minnesota say, ‘Teddy!’ but I always remind him there is no ‘I’ in team. No matter how much they chant, ‘Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!’ remember you need everybody on that field to help you. So don’t get caught up in the hype of ‘Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!’”
Bridgewater hasn’t had everybody. He has had to get it done without Adrian Peterson, the first Vikings quarterback since Brad Johnson in 2006 that has had to run an offense that didn’t have Peterson as its centerpiece. On Saturday, he also lost Jerick McKinnon for the rest of the season with a low back injury.
Bridgewater has also had to navigate a passing game that has seen its most athletic and explosive receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson, slip out of the starting ranks, had the right side of the offensive line lost to injuries and the tight end filled with so much promise, Kyle Rudolph, absent for six games.
Yet, somehow, Bridgewater has continued to improve.
After his impressive starting debut against the Falcons, his performance dipped dramatically. Over the next two games, he threw one touchdown and five interceptions as the team put up a combined 19 points in two losses.
And, although veteran quarterback Matt Cassel hasn’t been able to play, he has continued to be a positive influence on the rookie.
“He’s been here every day. For most meetings he’s around. He tries to be as involved as possible,” Christian Ponder said of Cassel. “He was on the sidelines at the games, so he’s doing a great job of staying active, trying to be a help for Teddy and for all of us.”
“He’s watching film with everyone and he’s talking to Teddy on the sidelines. I think he’s involved with the red zone game plan as well. He helps Scott (Turner, the quarterbacks coach) out with that. He’s a guy that, even for me last year, he has a lot of knowledge of the game and a guy you can learn a lot from.”
Ponder never had that in his rookie season. His “mentor” was Donovan McNabb, the same guy who wanted out – during the season – shortly after his starting assignment was pulled from him in favor of Ponder.
“Well, he left,” Ponder said of McNabb, then obviously trying to avoid the whole truth of the messy situation McNabb created while accentuating the positive for Bridgewater. “I think Teddy’s lucky to have Cassel. I think Cassel is a guy that knows a lot and has been a great help. Donovan would stay after and watch film, but I think when you’re a quarterback that was in that New England offense (like Cassel), you have to know a lot. Matt had a great knowledge of the game.”
Whether it’s a testament to Cassel or simply Bridgewater’s studious ways and his desire to continue to progress through his rookie season, the stats have trended favorably for Bridgewater of late.
In the last five games, Bridgewater has seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He hasn’t had a passer rating below 75 in the last five games and had a career-high 120.7 rating last week in frigid conditions.
Some wanted to write off Bridgewater, but he is showing nice signs of progression in his rookie season. After a breakout performance in his first start, he weathered some bad performances, has maintained his poise and pocket presence, has run when he should and if he starts hitting his downfield shots with more consistency like he showed last week, it will provide a promising future based off a rookie season without many key weapons around him.
“I think he will continue because, to me, I think he has a gift,” Rose said of her son earlier in the year. “Everybody can think what they want about themselves, but I always think he has a gift because of the way he carries himself. From a child, watching him play, I’m just excited for him.”
The Vikings might just have found their quarterback for the present and future if Bridgewater closes out the season as he’s been trending. Whether the Vikings have Adrian Peterson next or not, Bridgewater could provide that glimmer of hope for the Vikings offense to break into the modern times and complement a defense that has become increasingly effective in limiting even the good quarterbacks of the league.
“We really wanted to establish the run. We thought that would be the best thing for our team in the situation, but we never envisioned we’d only throw 13 passes,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “That wasn’t the game plan. We did want to establish the run, and we did a great job of it. We had 200-some yards at halftime, and so we kept running. And then as the game played out, we kept getting backed up inside our own 10-yard line, so we’re just trying to get room to punt the football. And I think that kind of added to the rushing totals, but again I’m not apologizing for rushing for 300 yards. I’ll take that each week.”
“We came out and gave up the touchdown on that fourth-down conversion, and we didn’t want that ball to start rolling,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “We knew the next couple series were really big, so we had to get up the field and we were able to get off with a couple stops and then score some points. Once we made it a three-score game again it was pretty relieving.”
“Everybody’s got their bumps and bruises this time of year. I’m just trying to get healthy for every Sunday,” he said. “I don’t really like it. I’d rather practice, just to get the reps so hopefully I’ll just stay healthy.”
Smith said he is too young to regularly have a veteran day off.