Teddy Bridgewater air-mailed his tight end. He missed open receivers streaking down the field. He even checked down on a Hail Mary.
For a player whose biggest strength is supposed to be an unflappable demeanor, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback sure looked rattled in a ghastly season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night.
“This is the first time I’ve really seen him like that,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Tuesday after reviewing video of the 20-3 defeat. “Usually he’s got so much composure but he did seem that way.”
Bridgewater completed 23 of 32 passes for 231 yards and an interception. The statistics don’t look terrible on their face, but watching the performance in real time revealed a quarterback who more closely resembled a jittery rookie than the second-year pro who is supposed to be a key to a playoff run this season.
His interception sailed about 10 feet over 6-foot-6 Kyle Rudolph's head and right into Tramaine Brock’s hands. He held the ball far too long, which contributed to him being sacked five times, and he appeared to have difficulty dissecting the changing coverages of San Francisco’s aggressive defense.
Highlighting the head-scratching season debut was a sequence at the end of the first half. With 3 seconds left in the second quarter and the ball at the San Francisco 45, the Vikings initially brought out struggling kicker Blair Walsh for a desperation field goal try. But after rethinking things, Zimmer decided to let Bridgewater have one more play only to see him throw the ball to the 19-yard line for a meaningless 27-yard completion.
“I missed some easy throws, throws that could set us behind, behind the sticks or plays that could have resulted in big plays,” Bridgewater said after the game. “I’ll just have to try and continue to get better each week.”
The performance by Bridgewater seemed to trickle down to the rest of the team. The defense was gashed for more than 200 yards on the ground, Walsh missed yet another field goal try and Adrian Peterson was a nonfactor in his highly anticipated return to the field.
“I told the team at halftime, I said, ‘I don’t even know who’s out there today. I don’t know who this team is. I’ve never seen this side of us before,’” Zimmer said. “Never.”
Bridgewater also is playing behind a makeshift offensive line that is playing without injured center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. He was under duress often against the blitzing Niners, even running into rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings in the backfield while scrambling to buy time on one play.
Bridgewater completed 82 percent of his passes in the preseason, and his 64.4 completion percentage last season was the third best by a rookie in league history. The poise he has exhibited since being drafted in the first round has endeared him to coaches and teammates, who voted him a team captain before this season began.
That composure was nowhere to be found in San Francisco on Monday night, but Zimmer said he is confident his young quarterback will rebound against Detroit in the home opener on Sunday.
Bridgewater was picked off five times in two games against the Lions last season.
“I do not think that Teddy’s going to throw another clunker,” Zimmer said. “I’ve never seen that side of him. I think it’s probably just an enigma that this happened. But we’re going to have to find out with what we see.”