Teddy Bridgewater didn’t want to talk about the completions. Last the Minnesota quarterback checked, getting the ball where it needs to go is the main part of his job.
It’s that one miss, however, that will stick with the reigning Rookie of the Year.
Bridgewater’s only series in a 14-3 victory over Pittsburgh in the Hall of Fame game Sunday ended up with the Vikings getting stuffed on fourth down after Bridgewater failed to complete a simple flip to Mike Wallace on third down that would have given Minnesota first-and-goal.
“It’s one of those deals where it’s good to stay within the system,” Bridgewater said. “If I hit Mike, we avoid fourth down.”
Maybe Bridgewater is being picky after going 5 of 6 for 44 yards during his cameo, but with an extra preseason game this summer, the Vikings and their emerging leader have plenty of time to work on it.
Backup quarterback Mike Kafka threw a touchdown pass and running back Joe Banyard ran for another score long after Bridgewater exited as the Vikings improved to 5-0 in exhibitions under second-year coach Mike Zimmer.
“Wish I was 5-0 in the regular season,” he said, laughing.
Both teams have a month before things start to count for real, giving the annual exhibition opener an even more pedestrian feel.
Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis waved a “Terrible Towel” during pregame introductions, with the decidedly pro-Pittsburgh crowd roaring its approval, the only moment of true star power on a night the bold-faced names still in uniform didn’t break a sweat if they even bothered to suit up at all.
Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson’s return from a lengthy suspension will have to wait at least one more week, if not decidedly longer. He hung out on the sideline while the backups did the heavy lifting.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stuck to attire more appropriate for the gym. All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell and All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown put together a full dress rehearsal, even going through warm-ups then spent four quarters as spectators, the only exercise the notoriously hard-working Brown enjoyed coming while he absentmindedly worked the exercise bike.
Bridgewater deftly guided the Vikings on a 10-play, 51-yard drive in the first quarter, hitting tight end Kyle Rudolph for a pair of 11-yard gains. Rather than attempt a short field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 10, Zimmer opted to go for it only to see Jerick McKinnon stopped for no gain by nose tackle Steve McLendon, one of the handful of Pittsburgh regulars to actually take the field.
With Roethlisberger given the night off and usual backup Bruce Gradkowski dealing with a sore arm, the Steelers gave third-stringer Jones an extensive look. The leading passer in Oklahoma history is trying to convince the team to keep three quarterbacks on the roster. While coach Mike Tomlin said early in camp Jones was on the “incline” he was going to reserve judgment until after seeing Jones face guys in different-color jerseys.
The early returns weren’t exactly promising after the Steelers failed to produce a touchdown or generate much momentum with Jones under center.
“I just wanted to see a winning performance,” Tomlin said. “We come into these situations to win. August or no, that’s what we’re looking for — not only in (Jones) but all of us collectively. He’s got room for improvement.”
Jones completed 15 of 32 passes for 128 yards and an interception while taking nearly every Pittsburgh snap.
“Some good things, some bad things,” Jones said. “It will be interesting to see what it’s like to go watch the film and learn from it. I missed a couple of passes. A lot of these guys have never played in the NFL before, either, so I’m sure they were nervous like me.”
Jones led the Steelers on their only scoring drive of the half, finding Shakim Phillips for a 35-yard strike that set up a 36-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham, who later left with what Tomlin called a “potentially significant” injury.
“I just wanted to see a winning performance,” Tomlin said. “We come into these situations to win. August or no, that’s what we’re looking for — not only in (Jones) but all of us collectively. He’s got room for improvement. Obviously, some of the game-management things, delays of game, we can’t have.”
Minnesota didn’t have nearly as much trouble finding the end zone after the early near miss. Kafka took advantage of a blown coverage to connect with MyCole Pruitt for an easy 34-yard TD strike 4:20 left in the first half.
The Vikings extended the lead midway through the third quarter following a 62-yard punt return by rookie Stefon Diggs. He was tripped up just short of the goal line. No matter, one play later, Banyard strolled into the end zone to make it 14-3.
Vikings win preseason opener, 14-3
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