The “what if?” is the worst kind of regret. It sits there, mocking us because it’s impossible to rewrite history, taunting us because it’s not feasible to simultaneously experience more than one reality.
And the “what if?” certainly feels as if it will be the worst football-related thing to come from Teddy Bridgewater’s awful, season-ending injury Tuesday. The very worst thing, of course, is the pain itself that it is causing a player who deserves better. But the shared pain of what it means for the 2016 Vikings’ season is real as well.
The short-term questions — among them: Will the Vikings, about to enter their new stadium in a season of high hopes, acquire another quarterback? How will this impact the running game? — will be resolved. We will have answers, whether we like them or not.
But they are not the questions we really wanted answered. Namely, this was supposed to be the year we really found out some things about Bridgewater and the Vikings. This was supposed to be the merging of a quarterback who seemed to be getting better, still had more to prove and still appeared to have more to offer … with one of the all-time great running backs in NFL history, defying his age long enough to meet Bridgewater in a season where their talents could overlap … with a defense that was very good last year and has the makings of being exceptional this year.
We weren’t going to get all the answers, but my word we were going to start getting them. We were going to find out if Bridgewater was more than a “game manager,” a fine thing but generally not a Super Bowl-winning description when it comes to quarterbacks. We were going to see him “cut it loose,” as his coaches have urged — a thing we had already seen, cruelly, in a late first half flash of brilliance in the third preseason game, which turned out to be Bridgewater’s last game of the season.
We were going to find out just what the declarations that “the Vikings would go as far as Bridgewater would take them” meant. We were going to see if those who had their doubts about his ceiling — count me among them, based on body of work — would be proven wrong.
We will not know any of these things.
That does not mean the season is lost. The Vikings could make a shrewd move for a QB who fits well for a season. It’s even possible Quarterback X will do as well or even better than Bridgewater would have done. Hey, maybe Shaun Hill is even that guy. That’s probably wishful thinking, but it’s possible. More likely: A determined Adrian Peterson, which is the best kind of Adrian Peterson (see: 2012), could put the offense on his back. The defense could prove to be just so good that the Vikings can’t help but win.
Like I said, we will find out all of those things about everyone else. What we won’t find out is how they mix together with the third-year QB the Vikings were pinning a whole lot of hopes on. We won’t be able to go back at the end of it and say, “OK, now let’s try that all again, this time with Teddy.”
And the answers, quite possibly, are more than just delayed. By 2017, will Peterson still be here? Will Bridgewater be fully ready to go? Even if he is, where will he fit in with everyone else who had a year to improve and play together while he had to stand still?
Last year ended with one of those awful “what ifs” when Blair Walsh missed a chip shot. This year hasn’t even started yet, and already it feels like 2016 will be defined by that same terrible, unanswerable hypothetical question.