The Minnesota Vikings quarterback is 0-1 against all of the division opponents, but Sunday will mark his first chance at Round 2 in the division (he was out for the first game against the Green Bay Packers). However, his memories of his first game against the Detroit Lions brings back more than just the loss – it was a struggle to even survive in the second start of his young career.
“They just outplayed us,” Bridgewater said of the Vikings’ 17-3 loss at TCF Bank Stadium to the Lions on Oct. 12. “We didn’t do enough to win that game. You turn the ball over three times, you get sacked eight times and you don’t convert third downs and your chances of winning the game are very slim. Those are the things that stood out and those were the challenges that week, so we continue to work hard in those areas and try to get better.”
In that first meeting with Detroit, the Vikings offense was dominated by what is now the second overall defense in the league and first against the run.
The Vikings managed only 69 yards rushing, their lowest total since Bridgewater took over as the starter. They had nine penalties. They converted on 3 of 14 third-down tries, 21.4 percent being their second-lowest total of the season. Bridgewater was also sacked eight times and threw three interceptions.
“That was what, Week 6? I kind of see him growing each week,” head coach Mike Zimmer said of Bridgewater. “So it’s hard for me to say he’s come this far in this long. But I think he’s taken a lot of big steps in the last three or four weeks, maybe four weeks, just the things that he’s doing. He’s growing. He continually grows.”
Bridgewater has won four of the last six games and has a 91.0 rating during that span, fourth in the NFC. In the last four weeks, he has thrown seven touchdowns passes (including a career-long 59-yard touchdown last week that was bested in overtime with an 87-yarder) compared to four interceptions and been sacked a combined 10 times.
“I had a talk with (offensive coordinator) Norv Turner and he just told me it’s not about you getting the ball out quicker, it’s more of you making quicker decisions, so after that game I just told myself that I want to continue to make quicker decisions because once you make those fast decisions the ball is going to come out faster,” Bridgewater said. “We’ve been battling some injuries up front, but for the most part we asked (replacement offensive linemen) Joe (Berger), Vlad (Ducasse) and Mike (Harris) to do some great things for us and those guys have been playing some great football for us thus far. On my part, I just have to continue to make quicker decisions.”
Going against the impressive defensive lines possessed by Detroit and the Buffalo Bills, Bridgewater was sacked a combined 13 times in two weeks. Since? He’s been sacked 13 times in the last six games.
But Detroit continues to apply the pressure on defense. The Lions are tied for third in total opponent negative plays (sacks and tackles-for-loss) with 100.
“They’re a very stout defense,” Bridgewater said. “The front seven of those guys do a great job of applying pressure and getting to the quarterback. We know that it’s not going to be easy, but we’re up for this challenge.”
Zimmer said the Vikings have “come a long, long way this year,” but he also read the negative stats to the team from their first game against Detroit this week as a reminder.
“If we do it again it will be painful,” he said. “I just told them things we need to do to win, that’s all.”
Barr didn’t play last week after not practicing all week, but Zimmer said the first-round pick is making progress.
“He’s feeling better. So, we’ll just see as the week goes on,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer didn’t off much clarity on Blanton or Johnson, either, but he said Johnson’s replacement, Vladimir Ducasse, did “alright” against his former team.
“The Jets guys knew him a little bit better, so he had a couple where he didn’t do as good,” Zimmer said. “But he did pretty good. It’s nice to have a veteran guy to be able to go in there. He started a couple of games now that we’ve got both the guards out.”
Andrew Sendejo replaced Blanton has “a chance” to earn more playing time with a solid performance this week if Blanton can’t play.
“If guys play good, they have more of an opportunity,” Zimmer said. “So, nothing’s set in stone.”
“Consistency,” Zimmer said. “It’s being in the right place, doing the right things, running the right routes, blocking the right people, lining up in the right place. That’s it. Again, I want this guy to be a great player. I really do. I want him to be a great player. I don’t know when it will happen, but I’m hoping like crazy it does. I want him to be a great player.”