The Minnesota Vikings spent weeks in OTAs, minicamps, training camp and practices preparing in anticipation of the time when the offense would be faced with a two-minute situation.
The months of preparation never got to be used by the first-team offense and starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first two preseason games. He wasn’t around for a two-minute game scenario at Cincinnati. He didn’t play at Seattle. So, with all the time and effort put in for an unpredictable scenario, when the Vikings finally got a chance to release the hounds they did so with such precision that every team on the schedule already has those five plays filed away. And for a national TV audience when the Vikings were the only show in town at the moment, the two-minute offense in the 23-10 win over San Diego was punctuated by a pre-halftime gut-punch.
A first-down run of 5 yards by Matt Asiata that got the Vikings hurrying up to the line to get another a play off before the two-minute warning was going to slow their roll. Bridgewater connected on a “past-the-sticks” 6-yarder to Charles Johnson to keep the momentum rolling.
When the longer-than-normal NFL-mandated commercial timeout expired and the guy with the giant orange oven mitts gave permission for men to play ball, Bridgewater stepped up and delivered.
It looked as though the enthusiasm would be curbed when Bridgewater was sacked by defensive end Darius Philon when the pocket collapsed. Bridgewater escaped and was brought down for just a 1-yard loss. The Vikings called a timeout (their first), so there wasn’t any panic. This was still salvageable.
Points were still possible – three or six yet to be determined.
What followed was a textbook definition of how 68 yards are gone in 40 seconds.
With the Chargers defending the deep ball and the sideline, Bridgewater completed a 19-yard pass over the middle to Johnson to get the Vikings to the midfield Norseman head.
Running his players to the line, he dropped a pass in the bucket to Stefon Diggs at the right sideline for 22 yards and a clock stoppage by design.
The offense was already in scoring position with two timeouts in their pocket. The middle of the field was in play and Bridgewater snapped a pass off to Kyle Rudolph inside the 10-yard line that, when Rudolph pulled it in and turned towards pay dirt, was wide open.
Months of preparation paid off.
“It was just great execution right there and understanding the situation,” Bridgewater said. “We were in a two-minute situation and the biggest thing that we did was that we had timeouts. We didn’t waste our timeouts in the first quarter with near-delay of game or substitutions. For me, it’s just getting the ball to my guy, allowing those guys to make plays and those guys having the awareness of the clock along with understanding the situation. Whether it was to Charles, Diggs or Rudy, all those guys did what we wanted them to do and executed on those plays.”
Neither Bridgewater nor head coach Mike Zimmer were willing to let the first-down sack be a last-call buzz-kill.
Time was on their side.
“When you’re in a two-minute situation, you don’t want to take those sacks,” Bridgewater said. “But, we had timeouts. Even though we took the sack, we had the timeout and time on our side. It allowed us to continue to be aggressive and push the ball down the field. The offensive line did a great job of finishing that drive, which resulted in a touchdown.”
For Rudolph, the final three plays of the first half were cathartic for an offense that had worked the drill dozens of times between May and Sunday, and when they got the chance to make it happen they accomplished the mission.
From the very personal perspective, it was vindication for Rudolph, who had fumbled when tag-teamed by Chargers defenders the previous drive.
He had something to prove, which he punctuated by pretending to spike the ball following his touchdown and mystically had it stick to his hand. Being the final piece of a three-play puzzle that appeared too easy to solve provided his redemption.
“We hadn’t had a two-minute situation in the preseason,” Rudolph said. “We do it all the time in practice, but to get some live action out of it was good for us. I don’t think we could have executed it any better, starting with Teddy back in the pocket.”
For the guy firing the bullets, it was just as gratifying.
Bridgewater was the first to admit he couldn’t have drawn it up any better.
“It was amazing being able to put together a drive like that right before the half,” Bridgewater said. “It was great. You take momentum going into the half and now your defense gets to go out there in the second half maybe get a three-and-out. Now you’re back on the field. Then you just keep putting your foot on the gas.”
As has become his recent wont to do, Zimmer tried not to be overly effusive in praise, because, as he wants us to believe, it’s all about the execution.
It’s what’s expected for Bridgewater and his receivers.
“He made a nice throw, I believe it was Charles Johnson, on the inside-breaking route,” Zimmer said. “(He had a) good throw to Diggs on the sideline and another great throw (to Rudolph). I told you there was nothing to worry about, and sometimes you just have to trust me.”
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Will the Vikings replicate the two-minute drill with such assassin-style precision as they did Sunday? Let’s tap the brakes on that one.
But they’re 1-for-1 – and No. 28 hasn’t seen the field yet.