There are plenty of bad memories for fans of the Minnesota Vikings after losing four Super Bowls, but perhaps no two words raise the ire of modern-day Vikings fans as much as those two words often associated with Bountygate.
It was Gregg Williams that was suspended for a year after it was determined he oversaw a bounty program for big hits and injuring quarterbacks when he was the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, and Brett Favre’s swollen and deep purple ankle following an overtime loss to the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship is an image that resonates negatively with Minnesotans.
So when Williams’ defense was at fault for an elbow to the head of a sliding Teddy Bridgewater that concussed their modern-day quarterback and took him out of Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams, it was a natural reaction for Vikings fans to recall the championship game against the Saints, even if veteran linebacker Chad Greenway, one of the few players left on Minnesota’s roster from that game, didn’t want to go there.
“I definitely remember playing against those guys in New Orleans, and they played physical and they played through the whistle so with that you get some shots that don’t look that good,” said Adrian Peterson, who was also part of that NFC Championship loss. “Teddy, hopefully he comes out and he’s healthy and he’s going to be OK.”
Bridgewater suffered the concussion early in the fourth quarter when he scrambled for a first down and slid. Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner went to the ground and hit Bridgewater in the helmet. The quarterback stayed down before being taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion.
“I did not know he was going to slide; I thought he was going to give another move and it was a bang-bang play,” Joyner said. “My intent was never to hurt Teddy. We are from the same place. His mom is proud of him just like my mom is proud of me. I have love for him and his career, and I would never want to hurt anyone like that. It was just a bang-bang play and something that I wish I could have back.”
The Vikings clearly didn’t see it that way.
“I’m sure he’ll hear from the league about it. Teddy clearly gave himself up,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He still tried to go on with the tackle. At the end of the day, I try not to read into it too much, but it hurt our quarterback so I don’t know how they’ll look at it. But at the same time we just tried to press through it.”
Offensive guard Mike Harris was more direct.
“I was on the field. I saw it. It was a cheap shot,” Harris said. “I didn’t like it at all.”
“I didn’t expect that. I didn’t like it, especially when they were hitting Teddy a couple times. But it motivated me.”
Interestingly, Zimmer’s son, Adam, who is the linebackers coach for the Vikings, was a position coach in New Orleans under Williams.
“That stuff with Teddy and stuff like that, I don’t agree with those kind of hits. We know his history, his style of defense,” guard Brandon Fusco said of Williams. “They’re aggressive.”
Fusco added later: “I don’t agree with the hit. Players on that team, some of them are cheap, some of them are dirty. Every time we play them, it’s that way. I think they talk the most stuff every time we play them.”
The Rams were penalized 12 times for 87 yards and another hit low on Bridgewater after he released the ball was called into question – although going low on the quarterback outside the pocket isn’t illegal. Whether that hit on Bridgewater by defensive end William Hayes was late or not, it didn’t sit well with the Vikings and it wasn’t called.
The Vikings were penalized six times for 67 yards, including a blow to the head of quarterback Nick Foles by Linval Joseph. Matt Kalil was caught in a skirmish after the whistle with a Rams defensive lineman and neither of them was penalized.
“I usually try to be smart about those, but obviously if I’m trying to get away and he’s holding onto me and not letting go, then it’s going to piss me off. It’s just the way it is,” Kalil said. “Obviously, with a whole bunch of guys there’s a lot of testosterone flying around, guys are going to get pissed, but that team is known for it. We kept our composure and stuck to the plan and obviously A.P. had a big day rushing.”
The Rams entered the game with 77 penalties, fifth-most in the league. The Vikings were the least-penalized team with 52.
“It was very chippy. We knew they were going to be a very physical team and a chippy team,” Munnerlyn said. “I’ve played against them guys a lot in the past when I was in Carolina and we kind of had a chippy game and we knew they were going to come out and try to get under our skin, but I think we did well to hold our composure.
“We did real well with that, not retaliating after the plays or getting personal fouls. I think I got a facemask penalty, but I didn’t try to, clearly. I think we did real well to just let our play speak for itself.”
Harris said he was surprised by the level of aggression from the Rams, despite hearing about the history of Williams.
“I know he was physical, even with the Saints. I felt like our guys did a good job today matching their intensity and we were able to run the ball well,” he said. (QB Shaun) Hill came in and managed the game pretty well and we’ve just got to move onto next week.”
Mike Zimmer said he didn’t have much to say to Rams head coach Jeff Fisher after the game, but figured he would be making a phone call to the NFL offices. Zimmer said he thought the Rams crossed the line and that the hit on Bridgewater was cheap.
Fisher didn’t sound concerned.
“It is not the first quarterback that has been hit while going into a slide,” Fisher said.
Fusco and other offensive linemen said it motivated them further after Bridgewater was forced to the leave the game with a concussion.
“Yeah, when you see the leader go down, as an offensive line we take that personal,” Fusco said. “From that point on, we played with such aggression that we just tried to take it out on them. I know there were some plays where I had so many hits to the face – some guy is twisting an arm or something like that. That’s just the way some games are.
“They’ve always been known as a physical, aggression defense. They’ve got personnel. I don’t know if you can say cheap or dirty or whatever – everyone has their own opinion. It’s just the way it is every time you play them.”