The Minnesota Vikings starters didn’t get much of a chance to play Friday night in their preseason opening 17-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater came away from the game feeling pretty good about things.
After a first series in which he was hit and harassed when dropping to pass, he helped lead the Vikings on a 10-play, 96-yard drive that led to the game’s first points and got both the Vikings starting offense and defense off the field with what could be termed a success – a 7-0 lead handed over to the second team.
Just getting back onto the field in a game against an opponent was enough for Bridgewater to see the first step being made toward defending the Vikings’ NFC North title.
“It was a great feeling,” Bridgewater said. “It was a long offseason, a long spring. Training camp has been a grind. To get out there and play some real football, it was pretty great.”
The first drive of the 2016 wasn’t a thing of beauty. He had to roll out and improvise to get a 3-yard gain on first down, took a 2-yard sack from Geno Atkins on second down and got drilled by Karlos Dunlap on third down.
He went to the bench somewhat glad to be leaving the field. At least he did it under his own steam.
The second drive, however, was a different story. After Jerick McKinnon improvised to avoid a safety, Bridgewater did the rest – converting a pair of third downs before throwing a 49-yard touchdown to Charles Johnson.
The first possession was a nightmare. The second one was the kind of drive the Vikings are looking for from Bridgewater.
“The good thing about that drive was we got to work different situations,” Bridgewater said. “We got to work some of our coming-out plays, our coming-out package. We had some big third downs. That’s what kind of gets guys going. You hit a third down on a backed-up situation, and you get your momentum, get your rhythm. The guys did a great job just executing that drive.”
On the pass to Johnson that scored the touchdown that reclaimed the swagger for the Vikings offense, Bridgewater again had to avoid early pressure from the Bengals defense.
One of the missing ingredients from the Vikings offense last year was the big pass over the top of the defense that forced them to be honest when packing the box with pressure. Connecting with Johnson gives pause to future opponents that, if you let Bridgewater extend a play, he’ll make you pay.
As is his wont to do, Bridgewater gave credit to everyone else for the perfect pass he threw on the run. Whether by design or not, he felt the pass rush from the outside, stepped up in the pocket and delivered a 50-yard strike that fell over Johnson’s shoulder and into his hands.
“It was a great feeling,” Bridgewater said. “Charles did a great job tracking the ball. The offensive line did a great job giving me a clean pocket. We were able to accomplish some things on that drive and get to work different situations that we’ve been working on throughout training camp. It was good to get a nice drive like that and get the momentum going.”
Bridgewater has always displayed a calm demeanor on the field. That’s what good quarterbacks do. Maybe as a rookie, he would have scrambled on that play. Entering his third season, he had the confidence to see the field in front of him and realize that a potential 10-yard scramble would move the sticks but a 49-yard touchdown would move the scoreboard.
He’s not buying into the outside hype surrounding the 2016 Vikings, but he does admit his comfort level in a game where the intention is not to make players comfortable is a good feeling.
“I feel very comfortable,” Bridgewater said. “As a team, we know we have a long way to go. We’re going to continue to work hard. When we come back (to practice Sunday), we’re going to watch the tape and make adjustments, make corrections and move forward.”