By Scott Taylor
The more you watch Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the more you want to like him. He looks 18, plays like he’s 30 and has certain quirks in his game that make you wonder how good Mike Zimmer must think he can be, just to put up with the oddities.
That sidearm release that sails the ball to receivers must drive Zimmer nuts. Bridgewater’s reluctance to run (although he might be told not to run) when it seems obvious he can get first downs on his own is often hard to watch. But his fearlessness, behind what might be the worst offensive line in football, must impress the hell out of the Vikings coaching staff.
On Sunday, some Vikings fans probably thought Teddy was the goat after he fumbled on what should have been the Vikings final drive to glory. As it is, Bridgewater did fumble, lost the ball to the Denver Broncos and ultimately lost the game 23-20.
Based on the entire nightmarish afternoon, it was pretty tough to blame Teddy for the loss. After all, he was sacked seven times, hurried 15 times and chased out of the pocket nine times. He also had five passes tipped or blocked.
Those who like to criticize the quarterback because he’s an easy target will say that he holds the ball too long, but that’s arguable. The Vikings beaten up, undermanned, under-talented offensive line is so bad, it can’t even run block.
Ask any offensive lineman at any level of football if he’d rather run block or pass block and to a man, they’ll say “run block.” As Brett Favre’s old center in Green Bay, Frank (Frankie-Bag-O-Doughnuts) Winters always said, “When you run block, suddenly you become the hammer, not the nail.”
Sadly, with Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan injured and with Matt Khalil simply lost in the wilderness on Sunday, the Vikings offensive line was over-matched by a Denver defense that is clearly one of the best in the NFL (you can go ahead and check the stats yourself).
Besides allowing seven sacks, which is embarrassing enough, here’s a telling sign about the O-line: The Broncos held the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, to 81 yards on 16 carries. Granted, he did get himself a 48-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-inches to pull Minnesota to within 20-17 with 10 minutes left to play but that was Peterson’s instincts combined with a mistake by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib was right there in the middle, almost in position to clog the hole, but he’d already turned his hips and by the time he turned back, Peterson was gone.
“The Denver line spread apart like the Red Sea,” Peterson said in a televised news conference after the game. “It just opened up.”
Denver led 23-20 in the final minute when the Vikings were driving the field. After starting on their own 20, Bridgewater moved the ball into Denver territory and seemed quite confident in a receiving team that didn’t include the injured Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright.
But that’s when Denver’s defense and Minnesota’s offensive line combined to end the game. After the line opened up, Peterson missed his blocking assignment on blitzing strong safety T.J. Ward. Ward knocked the ball out of Bridgewater’s hand and veteran Von Miller pounced on it at midfield with 29 seconds left.
With that, the Broncos won at home, improved to 4-0 on the season and left the Vikings with a record of 2-2 – two wins at home and two losses on the road.
“It was definitely frustrating, especially when I feel like it was my fault,” Peterson said. “Ward was hidden behind linebacker Brandon Marshall, but I still have to come through and make that block for Teddy.”
This game will be remembered as one that got away. Bridgewater finished with 27 completions on 41 attempts for 269 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. It was a good day, considering he didn’t get a lot of help.
His makeshift receiving corps was solid. Mike Wallace caught eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, Stefon Diggs caught six passes for 87 yards and Adam Thielen had a career game with six catches for 70 yards. In total, the Vikes had 325 net yards.
To be fair, the Vikings deserved a better fate on Sunday. In the end, however, it came down to a Denver defense that was obviously superior to Minnesota’s porous offensive line.
Fact is, if Zimmer and his staff can’t find a way to fix that mess, this could be a long season – both for an improving Bridgewater and the football team as a whole.