This is supposed to be the year Teddy Bridgewater and the Minnesota Vikings take a giant step forward, but they stumbled out of the gate.
They’ll look to get on track Sunday against the visiting Detroit Lions, who figure to be equally as desperate to avoid an 0-2 start amid a brutal stretch in their schedule.
Bridgewater showed tremendous promise toward the tail end of his rookie season, posting a 103.0 quarterback rating over his final five games. His continued development, combined with the return of Adrian Peterson and a middle-of-the-road defense that looked poised to improve, made the Vikings a popular pick by many to reach the postseason for just the second time in six years.
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But Bridgewater and Peterson underwhelmed, and the defense was ransacked by the run in Monday night’s 20-3 loss at San Francisco.
Bridgewater was 23 of 32 for 231 yards but struggled to find a rhythm. Operating behind a banged-up offensive line without center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt, Bridgewater was sacked five times and posted a 19.3 passer rating against the blitz. The Vikings struggled to protect the quarterback in 2014, too, surrendering 51 sacks – fifth-most in the NFL.
"I do not think that Teddy’s going to throw another clunker," coach Mike Zimmer said. "I’ve never seen that side of him. I think it’s probably just an enigma that this happened. But we’re going to have to find out with what we see."
The Lions gave Bridgewater fits last season, picking him off five times as they won both meetings by a combined score of 33-17. He excelled at home, however, going 5-2, including wins in the last three with a 109.2 passer rating.
Peterson was equally lackluster Monday with 31 rushing yards, though it came on only 10 carries as the Vikings fell to 2-6 when he runs the ball fewer than 11 times.
He has averaged 128.2 rushing yards over six career home meetings with Detroit.
"Unfortunately, we didn’t come out and play Vikings football offensively or defensively," Peterson said. "This is going to be a good learning experience for us."
Detroit also has a sour taste in its mouth after blowing a 21-3 lead last Sunday in a 33-28 loss at San Diego, surrendering 249 passing yards in the second half.
"You better get your problems corrected and move on," coach Jim Caldwell said. "The next opponent sees them and you can guarantee you’ll see those things over and over again until you make certain that you have them ironed out."
The Lions have little margin for error early in their schedule if they want to reach the postseason for a second straight year for the first time since qualifying from 1993-95. They host Denver next week before visiting Seattle and hosting Arizona – all playoff teams a year ago.
The defense did little to assuage concerns about the losses of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, surrendering 483 yards – its most in 38 regular-season games.
Linebacker DeAndre Levy, who led the team with 151 tackles last year, was also sidelined with a hip injury and could be out again.
Offensively, the Lions would like to get Calvin Johnson more involved after he had two receptions, his fewest ever in a season debut. He’s no stranger to big performances in Minnesota, averaging 108.0 receiving yards with four TDs in his last five matchups, though he hasn’t played there since a 207-yard performance at the Metrodome in 2012.
Ameer Abdullah continued to dazzle after a sensational preseason and led the league with 199 all-purpose yards in Week 1, taking a 24-yard carry to the end zone on his first touch from scrimmage. He’s likely relishing the opportunity to take on what appears to be another porous Vikings run defense.
Minnesota, which ranked 25th against the run last season, yielded 168 yards to Carlos Hyde and the 49ers averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
"We practiced way too hard to go out there and put a show on like that," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "It’s embarrassing, and we should take it personal. I take it personal. And we’re going to go out there and we’re going to do our job, and that’s all I can say, and I’m done here."
Detroit’s 17-3 victory at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 12 was just it second in its last 17 trips to Minnesota. This marks the first time the Lions have opened with two road games since 2002, when they lost to Miami and Carolina.
The Vikings have dropped four of their last five home openers but are 38-14-1 there in this series.
Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew has been ruled out for Sunday because of a hamstring injury. Linebacker DeAndre Levy, who missed the season opener with a hip injury, is listed as doubtful while defensive tackles Haloti Ngata (shoulder) and Caraun Reid (ankle) are questionable.