There were plenty of people that were stunned when the Minnesota Vikings came out on their opening drive of Thursday night’s 18-11 win over the Seattle Seahawks and Shaun Hill started in place of Teddy Bridgewater.
Head coach Mike Zimmer was terse when interviewed prior to the second half and following the game, repeating many times, “It was my decision” – even asking a couple of times if the questioner was alright with that – and that there was no disciplinary reason for the change.
Instead, he said he wanted to see what Hill could do and Hill lived up to it against one of the league’s toughest defenses – a defense that kept the majority of its starters in for almost the entirety of the first half.
“I thought Shaun did a nice job,” Zimmer said. “He did a good job directing protections. I thought our offensive line protected him well tonight. We made some plays down the field vertically. It allowed us to continue to move the ball. I thought that was good. It was good for Shaun to get in there and play. We have to find out about him as well.”
Hill managed the game very well, taking a couple of shots in the first half by standing in to deliver passes in which he knew he was going to get blasted by a defender. He finished his stint completing 10 of 17 passes for 129 yards and a passer rating of 82.7.
While the Vikings scored just one touchdown on Hill’s watch, he made enough plays to come away with solid grades.
On the opening drive, the Vikings stalled after crossing midfield, but Hill converted a pair of third downs that history says Seattle doesn’t typically allow – an 18-yard pass to Adam Thielen on a third-and-8 play on the opening series and, three plays later, converting a third-and-6 with an 8-yard pass to Matt Asiata.
He also incorporated the tight ends into the action, especially Kyle Rudolph. Midway through the second quarter, Hill dropped a 22-yard pass in the bucket on the sideline for a 22-yard gain that got the Vikings to midfield and flipped field position before punting and pinning Russell Wilson deep.
On the touchdown drive on Hill’s final appearance, he connected deep downfield with Rudolph for a 32-yard gain that, combined with a roughing the passer penalty that came after he released the ball, took the Vikings from their own 34-yard line to the Seattle 19.
Three plays later, facing a third-and-7, he completed a 12-yard strike to tight end MyCole Pruitt to get the ball down the 4-yard line, where Jerick McKinnon finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Whether it was simply to get work on it or the fact the linebacker K.J. Wright was out of the game after suffering an injury two plays earlier, the Vikings went for two points after the touchdown and Hill threw at Wright’s replacement, connecting with running back Matt Asiata to finish his night with an 8-0 lead.
It wasn’t a lights-out performance, but for a player whom outsiders have questioned about his ability to step in if Bridgewater was to get injured during the season, Hill not only put in a good performance, he did it in a full house against a Seattle team looking to make a statement – clearly made by keeping its starters on the field longer than the Vikings did.
Zimmer wanted to see what Hill still has because he saw very little action last year in his first season with the Vikings, and perhaps the reason Zimmer sat Bridgewater was to make sure he felt good with Hill as a potential starter if the situation were to arise.
Zimmer had few complaints following Hill’s performance.
“It was great for Shaun to play,” Zimmer said. “We had to take a good look at him and make sure that we’re going into the season with a backup that we feel good about. I thought he managed everything we did in the huddle. He got the right checks in. He had the opportunities to get the ball down the field. He didn’t panic in the pocket. We gave him a lot of time to survey the field, so it was good.”
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There won’t be a lot of Vikings fans that will be thrilled at the prospect of Hill starting during the course of the regular season, but on Thursday night he was asked to go up against a hungry defense looking to make a statement and, when all was said and done, Hill made the statement.
It likely is a statement that was enough to earn the confidence of the coaching staff heading into the 2016 season.null