Teddy Bridgewater is about to play in the biggest game of his short NFL career, a good prep step toward his first playoff appearance that will follow six or seven days later.
The pressure is on as the Minnesota Vikings look to dethrone the Green Bay Packers of the NFC North title they have held for the past four years. But this is Teddy Bridgewater, the seemingly unflappable, almost emotionless second-year quarterback, right?
Don’t expect him to panic in the moment or try to become Superman.
“We can’t let the game become too big. We know that we’re playing for a lot right now, but at the same time you just have to go out there and be ourselves,” Bridgewater said. “We don’t have to do anything extra, have to put any S’s on our chest, capes on our back. We just have to do our job and do our job well.”
Bridgewater has been doing that of late. As the schedule turned more imposing for the Vikings, Bridgewater has been better. In the last seven games, he has eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. Before that, it was an even split at six apiece. In the last three games, he has posted passer ratings of 108, 154.4 and 93.4.
And in his two NFL seasons, December has easily been his best month. In eight December games, he has completed 70 percent of his passes and has 1,944 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions and a 102.7 rating.
Still, you won’t find his teammates being surprised at his recent performance.
“I think I’ve had confidence in him all year. We know what he can do, especially these last few weeks he’s definitely stepped up to the plate,” offensive tackle Matt Kalil said. “He’s a quarterback that we drafted. He makes those kind of plays. He’s smart, athletic, and he can make big plays like that. As long as his confidence is high and he’s rolling like that, we’re definitely a great offense.”
Tight end Kyle Rudolph has been emerging as one of Bridgewater’s go-to targets. Four of his top five games for yardage this season have come in the last six games.
Like Kalil, Rudolph doesn’t believe there has been a major shift in Bridgewater of late.
“That’s the Teddy Bridgewater we’ve had here for the last few years. I think people lost sight of that a little bit throughout the course of the year,” Rudolph said.
“He hasn’t changed. He goes to work every day with the same demeanor and we just knew it was a matter of time when he got his opportunities that this would be coming.”
What has changed, however, seems to be a difference in philosophy in how the Vikings are handling Bridgewater. The last time he faced the Packers on Nov. 22, Bridgewater was sacked six times. In the five games since, he has been sacked 11 times.
“We’re just getting the ball out faster,” he said, “moving me around a little bit, doing different things and it’s been working.”
Kalil believes the coaches are honing in on the little things to improve the offense.
“We’re figuring out what we do really well and getting rid of the things that we don’t do really well,” he said. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence, too, and that helps.”
Now it’s a matter of transferring that success when it matters most. Sunday night, the division title is on the line. After that, it’s win or go home in the playoffs.
Despite the poise that Bridgewater typically displays, there are moments when he has taken on too much on his own, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
“A couple times when he’s gotten jacked up, there’s been times he’s tried to do too much, but I think everybody’s like that at times,” Zimmer said. “It’s not just a big moment for Teddy. I’m hoping it’s big for our defensive line, our offensive line and really everybody.
“… Sometimes you can tell when he’s really gunned up for a game. He’s played good when he has been and then there’s times when he’s maybe tried to do too much.”
Bridgewater said he doesn’t believe there’s a time where he has let the moment become too big, but he’s fully aware what the rest of the season – however long that may be – means.
“Coach Zimmer always talks about, this is when teams become great,” he said. “We’re trying to do something spectacular around here.”