by Patrick P. Marek
Vikings defeat Washington 38-30
Teddy Bridgewater is a class act and a very likeable guy. He is also the most popular man in Minnesota. That’s because he is currently the back-up quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Just ask Gary Cuazzo, Norm Snead, Rich Gannon, Wade Wilson, and even Joe Webb about the time they spent on the sunny side of the bench. Everybody loves the second-string quarterback … until the starter goes down, reality strikes, and the wheels start to come off.
It’s not Bridgewater’s first rodeo playing second fiddle to the Minnesota starting quarterback. He started his rookie season backing up Matt Cassel (who still is in the league by the way). The goal was for Bridgewater to learn the ropes under the veteran quarterback’s guidance, and then ease his way into the starting role after a season or two. It was a great plan until Cassel broke a bone in his foot in the third game of the season against the Saints. Bridgewater was thrown into the fire, and completed 12 of 20 passes for 150 yards and let two scoring drives that culminated in field goals.
It wasn’t exactly a repeat of the story of Wally Pipp taking a day off from the New York Yankees and being replaced by “The Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig, but Cassel never played another down for Minnesota, and Bridgewater was anointed the franchise quarterback for the Vikings. Fans were charmed by Teddy’s personality and approachability, and coaches loved his professionalism and accuracy. Almost everyone ignored his weaknesses: a tendency to hold the ball too long, and lack of arm strength. He showed steady progress, and after a fantastic pre-season in 2016 was predicted to lead an ultra-talented Minnesota team to the promised land.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Super Bowl. On August 30, 2016, Bridgewater’s knee exploded in a non-contact injury in the week before the opening game. The injury was so severe that he could have lost his life, or his leg, but because of the quick action of the Minnesota medical staff, and an incredibly talented surgical team, he was able to not only have the ability to walk, but also to harbor the impossible dream of making it back to being a starting NFL quarterback.
No one can deny it … Teddy is a great guy. He once took a local girl to her prom, and showed up for a kid’s birthday party after his Facebook post went viral. When Bridgewater went down in practice, players broke down into tears and threw their helmets on the ground. Things were so bad that the Vikings cancelled the rest of the practice and sent the players home to mourn.
It was a gut punch from which the team never recovered. Even though Minnesota made the bold move of trading for Sam Bradford, the team was never the same. It was time to move on. This season, when Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury after a brilliant opening-night victory against the Saints, Case Keenum took over the role of “next man up,” and has currently led the team to five straight victories. Last Sunday he passed for over 300 yards and four touchdowns in a road victory against a tough Washington team that had their backs against the wall. He had two brain-freezing, incomprehensible interceptions in the second half, but worked through his mistakes to engineer a game-winning drive that resulted in a 53-yard Kai Forbath field goal. That would be enough for most fans … and most organizations.
Unfortunately, for Keenum, the most popular guy in Minnesota was sitting on the bench. After 14 months of anguish, uncertainty, despair, and pain, Teddy Bridgewater was back in the game … and was one play away from regaining his role as Vikings’ starting quarterback. Bridgewater was moved to tears by his return to the Vikings, and according to coaches and players, looks better than ever in practice, with excellent mobility and more strength and accuracy on his passes. When Keenum threw his second interception of the game, Bridgewater had his helmet on, and fans were chanting his name.
This is just plain wrong. My mom used to have a favorite saying: “Dance with the guy who brought you.” Keenum may not be the second coming of Brett Favre or Fran Tarkenton, but this is his team right now … and the team is on a roll.
Keenum has developed an outstanding chemistry with his two star receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen (although he missed out on the chance to participate in Thielen’s hilarious Leap Frog touchdown celebration), he is mobile enough to extend plays and avoid sacks. Come on! He lit up a highly ranked Washington defense for 35 points in 35 minutes. He deserves to keep starting until he is injured, or hits a massive performance wall. Coach Zimmer is being coy, saying that he will announce next week’s starter to the team on Wednesday. Football is never fair, but Zimmer needs to get this right.
Case Keenum should start against the Rams, and Teddy Bridgewater should be the next man up. I have to think that even Teddy Bridgewater would agree that it is the right thing to do.