Vikings' Bridgewater 'sets the bar pretty high' in first start
MINNEAPOLIS -- The final seconds ticked off the clock Sunday and Teddy Bridgewater stood on the Minnesota Vikings sideline while the crowd serenaded the rookie with chants of "Teddy" again, a tune which is becoming ever popular at Minnesota's temporary home on the University of Minnesota campus.
The 21-year-old who had dreamed of these moments was able to savor a big 41-28 win against the Atlanta Falcons and a Vikings offense that accounted for 558 total yards.
Only Bridgewater didn't envision his first NFL start ending quite this way when he was. He was standing on the sideline for the final 10 minutes as his dream ending was interrupted by an ankle injury, not because of a runaway victory.
The left ankle sprain wasn't about to dampen Bridgewater's mood after the game.
"Didn't end the game the way I wanted to end it, but I'm feeling good right now," Bridgewater said. "I'm able to stand in front of you all, on my own, so I'm feeling pretty good."
The adrenaline and positive feelings, at least for one night, overshadowed any pain.
After Bridgewater threw for 317 yards -- the most by a Vikings' rookie making his first start -- and ran for a 13-yard touchdown, he twisted his ankle on a run near the goal-line. He was carted off for X-rays in the fourth quarter, but returned to the sideline late to enjoy the victory after X-rays were negative.
"He's going to get an MRI, but I told him he's fine," coach Mike Zimmer joked after the game.
Instead of celebrating his first win with a big dinner, Bridgewater said he was headed for an magnetic resonance imaging test once he left the stadium and would start treatment immediately knowing Minnesota has a short week with a game at Green Bay on Thursday.
Bridgewater said he had a similar instance at Louisville when he was injured on Saturday and returned to play on a Thursday night against Rutgers.
"I assume he's going to play," Zimmer said after the game. "I don't really know. Teddy is pretty dang tough now."
He was pretty good on Sunday too, making his first career start with Matt Cassel out for the rest of the season with a broken foot.
Bridgewater's ascension to the starting job arrived quicker than the team was expecting because of Cassel's presence. Arriving to those "Teddy" chants the moment he took the field, Bridgewater rewarded the Vikings' trust.
Using a series of quick-hitting passes and runs, Minnesota drove 73 yards on its first drive for a touchdown and an early lead. Bridgewater was 4 of 4 on the drive for 61 yards, with Jarius Wright taking a third-down receiver screen for 52 yards.
"You wouldn't think he was a rookie," Wright said. "You wouldn't think this was his first real game starting the way he kind of commanded the huddle, the way he called the plays. Teddy is a great quarterback."
Bridgewater wasn't spoon-fed an offensive game plan. Against Atlanta's high-powered offense led by Matt Ryan, Bridgewater matched the Pro Bowl veteran.
The offense opened up with deeper passes later, and Bridgewater finished 19 of 30 for 317 passing yards. He wasn't sacked and didn't commit a turnover. He added five runs for 27 yards.
Bridgewater's 98.9 quarterback rating is the highest in team history for a rookie in his first start. His 19 completions were the most in team history for a rookie making his first start and the 317 yards were the second most-ever by a Vikings' rookie quarterback.
"I think it sets the bar pretty high," Bridgewater said. "But you know coach Norv Turner, he always talks about playing the week better and playing better that you did the week before. For me, I just have to try to continue to build off the momentum that I have and not try to get beside myself, out of my character."
Bridgewater breaking character isn't a concern for Minnesota's coaches. His composure has been his most impressive attribute in taking over as the Vikings' starter just four games into his career after being selected with the final pick of this year's first round of the draft.
"Teddy's the same, all the time," Zimmer said. "He's always got the same demeanor. He's just amazing to be around, this kid. He's a good kid. I'm proud he's on my team."
Once Atlanta took a 28-27 lead, Minnesota's momentum and a double-digit halftime lead was gone and a win seemed ready to slip through the Vikings' hands.
Bridgewater had some comeback in him, as well.
He drove Minnesota 78 yards in nine plays and 3 minutes, 51 seconds for the game-winning touchdown. Bridgewater connected with Greg Jennings for 29 yards, Cordarrelle Patterson for 22 yards and Wright for 15 yards before Matt Asiata finished with his third rushing touchdown of the game.
"He's too calm," Patterson said. "He's always calm under pressure."
Bridgewater's first NFL touchdown didn't come from his arm. It came from his legs. He escaped the pocket, tucked and ran 13 yards, diving between two defenders into the end zone.
"Just being a competitor, wanting to score badder than the other guy wants you not to score," Bridgewater said. "So, in that situation just try to do whatever I could to get the touchdown."
Running also got Bridgewater in trouble. On a busted play, Bridgewater ran up the middle for a one-yard gain, falling a yard short of the end zone as he injured his ankle. He said he felt he could have returned to the game, if needed.
"I felt what happened during the play and it was basically a non-contact injury," Bridgewater said. "I tried to make a plant move and I just rolled my ankle in a funny way. But I wasn't worried at all."
Now the worry is not whether Bridgewater is ready for the NFL, it's whether he'll be ready for Green Bay on Thursday.
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