MINNEAPOLIS — We already knew about the mobility. Teddy Bridgewater proved in relief of Matt Cassel last week that he could make things happen with his feet, evading pressure, keeping plays alive and making himself into another weapon for a Vikings offense badly in need of an identity without Adrian Peterson.
Bridgewater was under siege during much of his appearance against the New Orleans Saints last week, and his performance against the Saints — 12-of-20 for 150 yards, as well as six carries for 27 yards — showed he could still find ways to be productive if his offensive line was struggling to protect him. But it also reinforced a faulty narrative about Bridgewater, who didn’t run much in college. If the Vikings were going to be interested in building around Bridgewater, if offensive coordinator Norv Turner was going to be as impressed by him as he was after a private workout in Florida last spring, the quarterback was going to have to show he could run a scheme predicated on downfield shots and middle-of-the-field throws off play action.
What the Minnesota Vikings got on Sunday in a 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons was both a confirmation that Bridgewater could handle the base curriculum of Turner’s offense and a teaser of the ways he can bring something new to one of the league’s time-honored schemes. The quarterback ran five times for 27 yards, bursting up the middle when his receivers were covered in the second quarter and diving into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown and even running a handful of read-option plays with running backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata in his debut as a starter.
But he also opened up the Vikings’ passing game in a way Cassel hadn’t done so far this season, completing 19 of his 30 passes for 317 yards on a day when the Vikings finally realized the downfield attack they expected to have under Turner. With plenty of time to throw on Sunday, Bridgewater stayed in the pocket for 19 of his 29 throws, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and went 8 of 12 for 163 yards on throws that traveled 10 yards or longer.
Those numbers could have been even better had Bridgewater put a little more air under a throw to a wide-open Jarius Wright late in the third quarter, but considering Cassel was 1-for-11 on throws longer than 10 yards this season, Bridgewater’s performance looked like a revelation.
“Man, that guy is a great player — not only throwing the ball, but he made plays on his feet,” Wright said. “Got first downs with his feet also, made big plays with his feet. We just got to keep building on the performance we had today on offense.”
That will be predicated on whether Bridgewater is able to make a quick turnaround for Thursday’s game in Green Bay after spraining his left ankle on Sunday. The X-rays were negative, and coach Mike Zimmer said he expected Bridgewater would play, but it seems the Vikings offense will be molded to fit the rookie. He’s been back in the shotgun for 48 of his 58 dropbacks, where he’s able to make quick reads, step up to avoid pressure and even hold defenders with the threat of his running ability. No quarterback has ever run for more than 192 yards in a season under Turner, and while a healthy Bridgewater seems on his way to breaking that mark, the prospect of his mobility alone can affect defenses.
That prospect, paired with the idea that Bridgewater can make all the throws required in Turner’s offense, could present a frightening mixture for defensive coordinators if the rookie is able to master it all. What the Vikings did against Atlanta on Sunday, without Peterson and Kyle Rudolph, showed just how much Bridgewater can open up for them.
“I think it sets the bar pretty high,” Bridgewater said. “I just have to continue to try to build off of the momentum that I have and not try to get besides myself or out of my character.