Hard as Teddy Bridgewater may try to deflect the praise thrown his way, the TCF Bank crowd wasn’t chanting “Vladdy! Vladdy! Vladdy” for Vladimir Ducasse as the former New York Jets offensive linemen entered the game to replace an injured Charlie Johnson.
Ever since Bridgewater made his debut in relief of injured veteran Matt Cassel in Week 3, it’s been, “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!” reverberating through the Minnesota Vikings’ temporary home.
Asked about being the face of the franchise – as head coach Mike Zimmer reiterated after Sunday’s win – Bridgewater deflected praise to his teammates, as he always does, mentioning Ducasse among them: “This is as much Vladimir Ducasse’s franchise, Jabari Price, you talk about Jerick McKinnon,” Bridgewater said.
Bridgewater is showing time and again in the past three weeks that he is quickly becoming the face of a franchise that needs something to associate with offensively after the suspension of Adrian Peterson and disappearance of Cordarrelle Patterson.
Zimmer knew he created the headline with his statement after Sunday’s 30-24 overtime win.
“This franchise is Teddy’s. I know that was a good headline for you,” Zimmer said with a smile. “That’s what he needs to do, he needs to take it over. This is his team now.”
He is starting to do just that.
To wit: The rookie quarterback has the most comeback wins in a season as any quarterback in franchise history, tying Daunte Culpepper (2000 and 2002), Jeff George (1999), Brad Johnson (1996 and 1997), Warren Moon (1994) and the original two-minute man, Tommy Kramer (1980 and 1985). All of them have four comebacks wins in a season, and Bridgewater has three more games to increase his mark.
“He made a lot of great decisions with the ball and then he made some great throws,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know, you people finally get a chance to see a lot of the things I see in practice every single day – his composure and his competitiveness. And you know what? He’s a tough guy. He really is a tough guy, quiet, but he’s tough.”
The quiet demeanor, however, will have to change at some point. For now, Bridgewater is biding his time while the humble, hard-working rookie makes major progress in his game.
Before Sunday, he had only one 300-yard game. He doubled that total after a 309-yard performance and had his best yards-per-attempt outing of the season, averaging 11.4 yards per throw. He had his third straight two-touchdown game. The only interception he threw was a deep heave into the end zone as time expired in the first half, an inconsequential one. He had his longest completion of the season with a 59-yard first-half deep ball to Charles Johnson that couldn’t have been throw any better, and then saw that become a short-lived mark when Jarius Wright took his third-down screen that was an audible that went 87 yards for a touchdown. That also became the third-longest reception in franchise history.
He might not believe that he’s the face of the franchise yet, but he at least admitted he wants to get there.
“I would love to get to that stage,” he said. “Like I said, I don’t want to just be the guy for just a couple games or a year, I want to continue to be the guy and have a long career. I just have to continue to get better. Like I said, this is the Minnesota Vikings franchise and I’m just the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.”
Just? Bridgewater doesn’t seem to be embracing the title as much as his teammates and coaches are becoming more convinced that he might already be there.
His 70.4 completion percentage against the Jets was his second straight game over 70. It was also his second straight game with a passer rating above 100. He ended the Jets game at 117.7. Had his receivers at least been able to knock down his Hail Mary at the end of the first half it would have been a 130 rating for him and eclipsed the 120.7 he produced last week against the Carolina Panthers. Either way, it was the second straight game he produced a rating over 100, bringing his season total to an 82.4 rating.
“I had to get rid of that mindset of not trying to make mistakes,” he said. “No game is going to perfect. I just continue to go out there. (Quarterbacks) coach Scott Turner, he’s a great coach; he constantly tells me, ‘Just have fun. Let it rip.’ And hearing those words every time I come on the field, every time I come on the sideline, he’s right there to give me a recap of what the defense was doing. He just tells to me to go out there and let it rip, don’t worry about overthinking things and trying to be perfect, because when you try to be perfect, that’s when you make mistakes.”
He is doing it all without Peterson and now without McKinnon, who was lost for the season when the Vikings placed him on injured reserve with low back injury on Saturday. That has the Vikings turning to their third-string running back, Matt Asiata. Bridgewater also likely lost starting left guard Charlie Johnson for at least a week when he left the game with an ankle injury and left the locker room on crutches. That would mean Bridgewater would be operating with only two of five starters on the offensive line.
And without Patterson producing, Bridgewater entered the game with only one receiver going over 100 yards in any game this season (Wright against the Atlanta Falcons in Bridgewater’s first start of the season). But against the Jets, both Patterson’s replacement, former seventh-round draft choice Charles Johnson, and Wright ended the game each with more than 100 yards. It was the first time since 2004, when Randy Moss and Nate Burleson did it, that the Vikings had two receivers over 100 yards.
The next step for Bridgewater, according to Zimmer, is to become more of a vocal leader.
“I think when Teddy decides to be the leader of the football team, because right now he’s still feeling his way a little bit and his personality is just do what you do and do what you have to do,” Zimmer said.
“Teddy is so respectful of knowing his place and understanding everything, and quite honestly I’m glad he’s like that because the veterans gravitate to him, the offensive line gravitates to him, the defensive players gravitate to him. … Eventually (he will) grow into that. He’s the guy.”
He certainly was Sunday and has been as the Vikings have won four of their last six games, a stretch in which he has thrown nine touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Live it up, Teddy. This is your franchise.
Zim knows: ‘This franchise is Teddy’s’
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