Sunday slant: Teddy impressed his teammates

Since his first start, Teddy Bridgewater received the praise of coaches, but he continued to gain the trust and adoration of teammates as the season progressed.

The accomplishments of Teddy Bridgewater in his seven months with the Minnesota Vikings were many.

The rookie quarterback never flinched, not when answering the ridiculous predraft criticisms and certainly not when standing tall under pressure in a season when so much went wrong and so much more could have. Because of Bridgewater, there is hope. Hope for fans of the Vikings. Hope for the coaches that had to quickly call an audible after their offseason planning when Adrian Peterson was lost. And, perhaps mostly importantly, hope for Bridgewater’s teammates that desperately want to end the losing and become a perennial playoff contender.

The calm and collected product of Miami Northwestern High School and the Louisville Cardinals not only proved he belonged on the NFL field, he proved he could lead the huddle. Brett Favre had that presence and respect in 2009 with the Vikings because of what he had done in the past. Teddy Bridgewater slowly earned a similar respect because of who he was in the present and what teammates see out of him for the future.

They saw maturation in Bridgewater on the field and in the locker room, all the way to the final game of the season. In times when it would have been easy to panic, Bridgewater had poise.

For a veteran receiver like Greg Jennings, who played with Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the way Bridgewater handled himself was most impressive, even in the regular-season finale when receivers were dropping passes and the Vikings were essentially down to their third-string running back. It wasn’t a performance without blemish, but the ability to rebound after adversity is what impressed Jennings.

Cordarrelle Patterson was benched after a deflection off his hands that ended with an interception, leaving Bridgewater with a receiving corps that was then made up of Jennings and two players that were practice squad (Adam Thielen) and injured reserve (Charles Johnson) material in 2013 and in their first seasons on an active roster in 2014.

“The one thing that I saw after the interception – I had a drop, Cordarrelle (had one) and it ended up as an interception – the way (Bridgewater) came back into the huddle, it was almost like that play never happened,” Jennings said of Bridgewater’s only interception in the season finale. “He was like, ‘Guys let’s go throw this ball around. Let’s go make plays and win this game.’ It was different because it was like – not that he’s never believed it before – but he said that with a posture like, ‘We’re going to get this done and I’m going to be the start of it.’ When you have a quarterback that’s starting to take that stance and that posture, things can turn for your team really quick. He gave us a chance and the offensive line did a great job. Guys started making plays and we got it done.”

Bridgewater was far from perfection in 2014, but he showed so much progression in throughout the season that he has teammates believing that finally the most important position in football is locked down for the future in Minnesota.

Bridgewater threw more passes (402) and completed more (259) than any other rookie quarterback in franchise history. His 64.4 completion percentage was third-highest among rookie quarterbacks in NFL history. His 2,919 passing yards were almost 1,000 more than Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton had in his rookie season with the Vikings, and Bridgewater’s three 300-yard games tripled the previous rookie record for the Vikings.

The statistical records for Bridgewater go on and on, but for his teammates it goes beyond statistics. They see the work he puts in and his demeanor in the huddle.

Jennings said it takes time for quarterback, but he doesn’t doubt Bridgewater will take that next step.

“I have no doubt. He has a tremendous work ethic. He’s always taking notes, studying, absorbing. He’s like a sponge. He’s drinking everything that you feed him. That’s what you want at that position,” Jennings said.

“He has everything he needs to be a successful quarterback. He’s poised to do it and it’s all about his work – what he puts in off the field and on the field.”

Maybe Vikings fans and teammates should have known what they were getting with Bridgewater when he was drafted at the end of the first round, dropping from one of the expected top spots because of a poor pro day. When the Vikings drafted him, Bridgewater’s former college coach at Louisville, Charlie Strong, couldn’t make enough bold testaments to Bridgewater’s poise and character.

“When you see him play and it’s time to compete, he turns it on,” Strong said. “When he’s on the field, there’s no nonsense. He’s going to be all business and a guy that it totally focused. When it’s time to turn it on, it’s all business.”

So far, it has been. Bridgewater has that low-key, serious, business-like look to him. But, thankfully, toward the end of the season he appeared to loosen up, especially among teammates, in the locker room. He would join the Friday laugh sessions.

Prior to the draft, one AFC coach was quoted by Bleacher Report comparing Bridgewater to Willie Beamen, the fictional quarterback from the movie “Any Given Sunday.” Beamen made a comedy of errors while struggling to learn the playbook.

These days, that comparison is laughable at best, preposterous in reality. Bridgewater saw that comparison and spotlighted it as the most unfair criticism of the many that were lobbed at him during the predraft process.

“That was pretty harsh. But everything happens for a reason,” he said after being drafted. “Like I said, you can’t control what’s being said.”

The sentiments that matter are those from his coaches and maybe even more so from his teammates. They couldn’t be further from the Beamen insult.

“The head coach and the quarterback are two positions that every team has to have playing or coaching at a high level to be successful,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “To have a guy that everyone is confident in him being the guy, that just makes him more confident in his job because everyone thinks he’s the guy for the job.

“Having success like he did, his rookie year, having success where he’s thrown into a situation really just makes it even better. Had he played in a couple of games, in spot duty, and did OK it wouldn’t be the same feeling. But the way he handled the situation he was thrown into says a lot about him and our staff. … There’s a lot to be excited about.”

Bridgewater is now front and center in that discussion.

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