Teddy Bridgewater appears to be peaking at the right time.
December has been the best month over the last two seasons for the Minnesota Vikings second-year quarterback. His completion percentage (71.43), passer rating (103.8) and yards per attempt (8.75) are all highest in December games when compared to the other months of the season.
In the last two games, Bridgewater has completed 75 percent of his passes for 566 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions while have a career high in passing yards (335) against the Arizona Cardinals and then a career high in passing touchdowns (four) against the Chicago Bears.
“Teddy has had a good year,” veteran backup quarterback Shaun Hill said. “I know that everybody wants to just look at stats on paper and things like that and try to compare guys, and compare guys in his age group and all those things. But the fact of the matter is he’s doing what he’s asked to do to get wins for this team and he’s done a great job of that.”
Bridgewater’s performance on Sunday made him the second quarterback in NFL history to complete at least 85 percent of his passes with four touchdowns passing, one rushing and no interceptions in a single game, joining Cleveland’s Fran Ryan (Dec. 12, 1964). Bridgewater completed 17 of 20 passes for 231 yards in the Vikings’ 38-17 win over the Bears.
But Hill said Bridgewater has made the most progress with something that is largely undetectable by fans.
“I’ve seen a real growth in knowing protections, knowing how to move the line and being able to take care of that stuff at the line of scrimmage, knowing the looks the defense is giving us and being able to get us in a good protection, which is, I think, for a second-year guy, pretty impressive,” Hill said.
“The difficult part about it is to forget about last week because you’re facing a new defense this week. To be able to forget what we did last week and apply what our plan is this week and what the defense this week is giving us, he’s been very, very good at that.”
As a rookie last year, Bridgewater relied on veteran center John Sullivan to help adjust protections at the line of scrimmage. This year, Sullivan hasn’t played a game. That forced another veteran, Joe Berger, into the starting spot.
Hill wasn’t with the Vikings last year, so he didn’t see how Sullivan and Bridgewater worked together. All Hill knows is what he sees in meetings, on the practice field and then ultimately in games this year.
“I do know that he’s come a long way in that area and is far beyond where I would expect a second-year guy to be,” Hill said.
“Forgetting about the week before or the weeks before and those looks and applying what this week presents, it is hard to do, especially as you get late in the year. You could see a look that looks like something last week and it’s totally different for that defense.”
It hasn’t always been smooth. Bridgewater took seven sacks against a Denver Broncos defense that is, incredibly, ranked first in overall defense, first in run defense and first in pass defense. Bridgewater also took six sacks against the Green Bay Packers and five against the San Francisco 49ers in the regular-season opener.
But the second-year quarterback also has six games this season in which he has taken one or no sacks, including a one-sack game against the Bears on Sunday.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer believes Bridgewater “has a good feel” for adjusting protections, but undoubtedly there is room for improvement in Bridgewater’s overall game. He has been most criticized this season for not developing a consistent deep passing game, a usual staple of Norv Turner’s offenses, but when the Vikings have gone to more of a quick passing game in the last two outings it has produced the best results.
“Outstanding job,” running back Adrian Peterson said of Bridgewater after Sunday’s win. “The fight that this kid has, the determination and willpower, I’ve been talking about it all year. These past two weeks I’ve seen a different look in his eyes. I really don’t have to say much to him. I say what I normally say to him, just play fast and play smart, but I see a look in his eyes and I know he’s good and he’s ready to go.”
Bridgewater’s performance the last two weeks has provided hope that the Vikings can produce offensively even if teams are loaded up defensively to stop Peterson and the running game.
After going five straight games with one or no catches, Mike Wallace has caught three passes in each of his last two games, and Bridgewater connected with 11 different receivers in the Arizona game.
“There’s a lot of things that go into playing the position,” Hill said. “A lot of it is just developing a rapport with your guys and knowing what they’re going to do and being able to anticipate what they’re going to do and deliver a ball to them. That takes time, to be honest with you. All that has certainly come along and progressed.
“I know that Teddy is playing with a high level of confidence and trust in his reads and making good throws.”