Minnesota Vikings fans are passionate about their football team, and usually they're all frustrated Sunday afternoons after a loss. The Vikings lost to the Saints 20-9 on Sunday in New Orleans, but fans had every reason to feel optimistic despite their second loss in three weeks.
Quarterback Matt Cassel went down in the first half with a foot injury while scrambling for yardage and didn't play the rest of the game. X-rays after the game revealed he has broken bones in his foot, which means he's out indefinitely if not for the rest of the season. It also meant the debut of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a player fans have been excited about since the Vikings traded back into the first round to get in the NFL Draft.
Despite not scoring an offensive touchdown, Bridgewater played well enough to give Vikings fans something to be excited about for the future. Here's why he'll succeed as the future franchise quarterback of the Vikings.
Strong Start Against the Saints
Teddy Bridgewater was thrown into a tough spot for his first career NFL action as a rookie. He came in after Cassel's injury on the road in one of the loudest NFL stadiums at New Orleans with the Vikings trailing 13-0. Bridgewater finished 12-of-20 passing for 150 yards with no touchdowns, but also didn't turn the ball over. A couple of the incomplete passes were drops that should have been caught by wide receivers. Bridgewater looked poised for his first career action, when most rookie quarterbacks would be flustered on the road in a crazy environment.
He Nearly Won the Job in Training Camp
At the start of training camp, Mike Zimmer said Cassel was the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback. We'll never really know how close Bridgewater came to beating out Cassel, but his preseason performance and ability to learn the playbook quickly made it a much closer race than the Vikings will ever admit. Bridgewater completed 61 percent of his passes for five touchdowns in 49 preseason attempts. Yes, preseason football is meaningless, but it was good to see Bridgewater play with poise in live-game action against an opponent, knowing he would probably spend the regular season on the sidelines.
Expectations Low as a Rookie
Simply put, Bridgewater has absolutely nothing to lose in his rookie season other than risking injury, so he might as well play to his strengths and have fun on the field. Most NFL experts had the Vikings winning between five and seven games this season with Cassel behind center. With the chance that a rookie quarterback would be playing, that number probably goes down. Yes, the Saints aren't the greatest defense in the NFL, but Bridgewater made several plays with his arm and feet despite not finding the end zone. Experts and outsiders will doubt Bridgewater in his rookie season and he'll take a few lumps, but he showed in his first game that he's ready for the challenge.
Combines Quick, Fast Feet with Solid Arm
Teddy Bridgewater is an athlete, and now he needs the time to become an NFL quarterback. There's no better way to learn than to play when you're ready and face opposing defenses in live action. Bridgewater showed the ability Sunday to hang in the pocket despite pressure and get off accurate throws. Most of his throws were right on the money to their intended targets and there were a few drops. He also wasn't afraid to take chances throwing down the field. His longest completion Sunday went for 41 yards. Bridgewater can be just as big a weapon with his feet. If his protection breaks down, he's quick and fast enough to avoid sacks and gain yardage scrambling. That forces opposing defenses to make decisions on pass plays on whether they'll go after him or drop back in coverage and force him to make an accurate throw.
Bridgewater Will Go as Far as Norv Turner Takes Him
Teddy Bridgewater can have a successful season if the coaching staff lets him. NFL coaches tend to get conservative with rookie quarterbacks. They don't want to throw too much at them and risk getting them confused, flustered or risk losing their confidence. They also want to limit the chances for turnovers and injuries. Bridgewater did everything that was asked of him in his debut Sunday, other than get in the end zone. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner is known for his success with making offenses creative and explosive, and that shouldn't change with Bridgewater behind center. The plays and formations might with having a more mobile quarterback, so it will be Turner's job to keep the offense dynamic with a rookie quarterback.
Bridgewater will also have to be careful to not try to do too much in this offense. He's got weapons in Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, and the Vikings will need to find something consistent at running back with Adrian Peterson out for the foreseeable future. They also need to keep Kyle Rudolph involved, assuming he's healthy enough to play.
Bridgewater handled himself extremely well in a tough environment. Now it's time to develop him into a franchise quarterback, something that will take time.
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