The common thread following the Minnesota Vikings’ 23-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was that there is no such thing as a moral victory. But in a game that just about everyone knew if the Vikings were going to beat – or even compete – with the 10-2 Cardinals on the road on a short week, it was going to have to be Teddy Bridgewater that needed to step up his game.
Bridgewater responded with one of the best games of his career, completing 25 of 36 passes for 335 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and six completions of 20 yards or more. The Vikings lost, but it wasn’t Bridgewater’s fault. He knew Arizona was going to sell out to stop Adrian Peterson and he responded with a career high in passing yards and, if not for three fumbles, including a blind side hit on Bridgewater that denied the team an opportunity for a game-tying field goal at the end of the game, he did what he needed to do to win.
Bridgewater didn’t care that he set a career high in passing yards because the Vikings lost the game. But he saw that, despite facing some significant adversity, the team played well enough to win.
“I thought we took a big step as a unit,” Bridgewater said. “We showed that we’re capable of doing some great things. When we’re clicking on all cylinders, we’re a tough team to stop. We shot ourselves in the foot some today with the three turnovers, but, for the most part, the guys did a great job of just executing the game plan and doing what we asked of them.”
The onus was clearly on Bridgewater’s shoulders to carry the offensive load. Head coach Mike Zimmer insisted that the Vikings needed to shorten the game and try to keep Arizona’s offense on the sidelines as much as possible.
That would entail Peterson running the ball effectively and Bridgewater keeping the clock moving with completions. In his first four carries of the game, Peterson ran four times for 37 yards. In his final 19 carries, Peterson gained just 32 yards, putting more pressure on Bridgewater to keep the ball in the hands of the Vikings.
“We talked about getting completions and that’s what he got tonight,” Zimmer said. “He got a lot of completions. We converted on third downs. I think we had 60 percent on that. Those were huge. Part of it was we had to possess the ball because of where we were defensively tonight.”
Not much more could have been asked of Bridgewater. Of his 36 passes, only 11 of them were incompletions. It should be noted that, of those 11 incompletions, five of them were out-of-bounds throwaways when no receiver was open and another one was a spike to stop the clock late.
But it was his last dropback that was the critical one. Already in field goal position, the Vikings were looking to get a few easy yards on a sideline pass, but the play that was dialed up called for taking much of the 13 seconds that remained … by design. It called for Bridgewater to let the play develop and his pass protection to afford him that opportunity.
“The play call was designed to get out of bounds,” Bridgewater said. “We had all of our wide receivers coming from the left side of the field. I tried to do my best to wait for those guys to at least get to the right side of the hash so they don’t get tackled in-bounds because we didn’t have any timeouts. They were taking some time, so I was just getting ready to throw the ball out of bounds.”
Bridgewater has been accused of holding onto the ball too long, but that wasn’t the case on that play. He knew that he could only hold onto the ball so long before getting rid of it – for a completion or a throwaway. He was a split second away from getting his arm moving forward before veteran Dwight Freeney made the play of the game.
Bridgewater knew the heat was coming. He just didn’t see the pressure getting there a fraction of a second before his internal alarm went off.
“I had a clear understanding of the situation,” Bridgewater said. “We didn’t have any timeouts. We couldn’t afford to get tackled in bounds. The play call was designed to at least push the ball out a little to allow a guy to make a catch and get out of bounds. I had the clock going off in my head. I got ready to throw the ball out of bounds and (Freeney) just hit me from behind.”
He was right in his assessment that, in reality, there is no such thing as a moral victory. In nearly identical situations against Arizona in December and Denver in October, a strip-sack of Bridgewater ended a last-minute comeback bid for an unexpected road victory.
In the case of the Denver game, it proved to the players that the Vikings could compete with anyone on the road. Prior to Thursday, that was the last time the Vikings lost on the road.
Considering what the Vikings were up against defensively and the pressure that had been placed on the offense, if not for three critical turnovers – none of which, it could be argued, were Bridgewater’s fault – the Vikings could have potentially pulled off a huge upset that couldn’t have been predicted.
Granted, all that a throwaway would have done is given the Vikings an opportunity to kick a long field goal to potentially send the game to overtime. There was no guarantee of victory, just the opportunity to try to continue their attempted improbable comeback.
Given how the game ended, there isn’t a moral victory. It’s a three-point loss that included multiple gunshot wounds to the feet. Bridgewater felt the Vikings proved that, even when teams shut down Peterson for three quarters it isn’t a guarantee of success.
“Our guys did a great job of overcoming different circumstances and going out there and competing,” Bridgewater said. “That’s what we expect. There are no moral victories in the game. We have to learn from today, bounce back and get ready for next week.”
The loss put the Vikings in a hard spot playoff-wise, because, five days removed from being the NFC North leader to likely be the second wild card in three days, the sting of Thursday’s loss will serve as motivation because there will be another situation that will present itself and it’s likely that, if that happens, the implications will be much higher.
“We’ll be in a ballgame like this again and we’re going to make sure we’re going to come out on top,” Bridgewater said.