MINNEAPOLIS – Welcome to The Club, Touchdown Teddy.
By The Club, I do not mean that Teddy Bridgewater’s virtuoso performance in the Minnesota Vikings’ 38-17 walloping of the Chicago Bears now welcomes the second-year quarterback into the NFL’s elite club of quarterbacks. Of course not. That club is small enough that only half a dozen or so superstars reside inside its borders at any given time.
Teddy Bridgewater will never be part of that club.
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But after Bridgewater pitched the quarterback equivalent of a perfect game on Sunday – tossing more touchdown passes (four) than incompletions (three), wearing down the NFL’s second-best pass defense with short, accurate throws spread all over the field to seven different receivers, and showing some serious stones on a 12-yard touchdown dash during which he jumped straight into a Bears cornerback who had geared up for the hit – we can include him as part of a club that’s just as important in today’s NFL.
On Sunday, it wasn’t so much that a star was born.
It was more that a winner was revealed.
Teddy Bridgewater, you are now the newest member of The Winning Quarterback Club.
Which, on a smash-mouth, rushing-and-defense-focused team like the Vikings, is exactly what you want.
“These last two weeks, I’ve seen a different look in his eyes,” star running back Adrian Peterson said of his team’s second-year quarterback. “The fight that this kid has, the determination and willpower … I see a look in his eyes, and I know he’s good and he’s ready to go.”
You may not have noticed that Teddy Bridgewater’s inauguration into The Winning Quarterback Club was made official Sunday. You may have been entranced by the concurrent MMA match going on between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman in the Carolina Panthers’ win over the New York Giants. You may have ignored this game because you knew the Chicago Bears are a borderline bad football team.
Or you may have just missed Touchdown Teddy’s brilliant performance because, even at his most brilliant, he is still somewhat mundane. No gorgeous deep balls. Only 20 pass attempts. Several long completions, but most of them of the catch-and-run variety instead of vertical passes. And a postgame press conference filled with quiet references to his offensive coordinator’s excellent game plan.
Teddy Bridgewater is no gunslinger and will never be confused with one. He’s not the type of magnetic personality who’ll ever be inundated with national endorsement deals. He’s not one to dab after touchdowns.
He’s more like the John Stockton of the NFL, someone who knows who to give the ball to and when. He’s a reliable point guard of a quarterback who isn’t going to wow you but instead will just wear you down. His game can be described with words that sound pretty boring but are perfect for a team with a once-in-a-generation running back and one of the NFL’s stoutest defenses.
Words like efficiency. And balance. And accuracy. And poise.
Words like winner, too.
On a chilly Sunday game that the Vikings needed to win to stay comfortably in the playoff hunt, Bridgewater had a 154.4 passer rating. Heck, according to NFC communications director Randall Liu, Bridgewater became the first quarterback since 1964 with four or more TD passes, no interceptions and a rushing touchdown to complete 85 percent of his passes in a game. Few of those passes were spectacular.
One that was spectacular came on the Vikings’ first score of the game, and it was on the type of play that we may come to call a Vintage Bridgewater play. The Vikings had just marched from their own 7-yard line all the way to the red zone in 12 efficient, balanced plays: seven Adrian Peterson runs, five passes. Bridgewater took the snap from the shotgun on the Bears’ 15-yard line. Chicago’s pass rush quickly enveloped Bridgewater, but he saw wide receiver Stefon Diggs in man coverage, streaking from the slot to the corner of the end zone. As Bridgewater was backpedaling in the face of the pass rush, he flung that typically Bridgewater-esque, wristy, three-quarter-arm pass. This was a pass that would never be mixed up with an Aaron Rodgers beauty. But it was beautifully Bridgewater, floating over the cornerback as only Diggs had a shot at hauling it in. The ball landed in Diggs’ chest, and he dragged both feet in the end zone.
“It was a front pocket,” Diggs said. “Everyone has a front pocket where you keep your pens and your notepads. That is where he threw it at, and it was a perfect place… Teddy Bridgewater just puts everybody in a position to be great.”
That pass was gorgeous.
The rest of his day? Most of it was handing the ball off, dumping off passes to open receivers in space, reading the defense and then letting his athletes get the ball downfield. The understated effort was appreciated by a fan base that had become frustrated, in recent months tossing out some silly comparisons to Christian Ponder and Tarvaris Jackson. By the end of the game, Vikings fans were chanting, “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!”
“It’s not pretty, but it’s efficient,” one of his offensive linemen, Brandon Fusco, said in the locker room just after Bridgewater came over to thank him for great pass protection. “You just take chunk after chunk. Some people may say we’re not a big-play offense. I think we just wear defenses out by just grinding them in the run and getting those nice little play-action short passes.”
“It was just his day, you know?” Fusco continued. “He’s pretty poised. He’s not going to be a rah-rah kind of guy. He’s gonna lead by example. He’s a pretty confident kid.”
This is not the type of quarterback – like a Cam Newton, or a healthy Andrew Luck, or an Aaron Rodgers or a Russell Wilson or a Tom Brady – who will leave your jaw on the floor. Those quarterbacks are the league’s elite.
Instead, Bridgewater at his best is like a poor man’s Drew Brees. Like Brees, he’s small for an NFL quarterback and does not have a cannon for an arm. But also like Brees, Bridgewater gets the ball to his receivers with great efficiency. He’s completing 66.3 percent of his passes this season, good for sixth in the league. He’ll soon reach 3,000 passing yards for this run-first team. And he’s infinitely more mobile than a quarterback like Brees, with Bridgewater’s legs being his most underappreciated asset. He’s got a little bit of Wilson in his running game, a little bit of Bernie Kosar in the way he sidearms so many of his passes.
Most of all, he’s got a lot of that intangible trait that’s ultimately the main thing you want in an NFL quarterback: He’s not elite. He’s just a winner.
“This is such a great team game because one guy can’t beat 11,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “You need 11 guys. That’s why we need guys like Teddy. I don’t think there’s an ideal game for Teddy Bridgewater. I think winning is ideal for him.”