There were no popped bottles or pizza parties for the 21-year-old rookie quarterback after he carved up the Atlanta Falcons secondary in his first NFL start and helped the Vikings outgain and outscore the league’s highest-scoring offense.
No, Teddy Bridgewater, who exited the game in the fourth quarter, said goodbye to his mother, his girlfriend and the rest of his personal cheering session and drove to an off-site medical facility to get his sprained left ankle checked out.
Perhaps he planned to sneak a champagne bottle in with him when he went?
“Not at all. Not at all,” Bridgewater said, laughing. “I’m probably going to go get the MRI and probably go the training room and start getting treatment tonight.”
Bridgewater’s day didn’t end quite the way he had imagined it as a nascent signal-caller, with him being carted to the locker room for x-rays, watching from the sideline as the Vikings fended off the Falcons then celebrating a 41-28 victory with doctors.
But the first 2½ hours after kickoff? Even Bridgewater, already a veteran when it comes to coachspeak, admitted he has set the bar pretty high for himself.
Bridgewater completed 19 of his 30 attempts for 317 yards and scored his first NFL touchdown on a 13-yard scramble in the second quarter. He is still looking for his first touchdown pass, but he also has not turned over the football in nearly seven quarters of action.
He wasn’t the only one doing damage. With the Vikings offensive line bullying the Falcons up front, rookie Jerick McKinnon rushed for 135 yards on 18 carries, including a 55-yard run in the second quarter, and starter Matt Asiata scored three rushing touchdowns, including the go-ahead score on fourth down with 10:50 left in the game.
The Vikings outgained the Falcons, who entered Week 4 with the league’s most productive offense, 558 yards to 411, and they averaged a whopping 7.5 yards per play.
“I think we did a great job calling plays today and Teddy obviously did a fantastic job,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We were down a few guys offensively, too, and for those guys to come out and perform like that, it’s impressive.”
Bridgewater and Vikings got off to a strong start. The rookie hit wide receiver Jarius Wright, who led all players with eight receptions and 132 receiving yards, for a 52-yard gain on a screen pass on the first drive. He completed his first six passes for 98 yards and Asiata scored touchdowns on the team’s first two possessions.
They led 24-14 at halftime and kicker Blair Walsh, who made four of his five field-goal attempts, expanded it to a 13-point lead early in the third quarter.
The Falcons took advantage of a pair of big plays from wide receiver Devin Hester and running back Antone Smith — both touchdowns made possible by shoddy tackling by the Vikings — to seize the lead, 28-27, late in the quarter.
Shortly after that, Wright sprinted behind the Falcons secondary for what should have been a sure touchdown, but Bridgewater overshot Wright on the third-down deep ball.
“There are going to be some plays where you missed opportunities,” said Bridgewater, who didn’t need crutches to attend his postgame news conference. “I was confident in the guys and I felt that they were still confident in me. I felt like we were just going to be able to seal the deal.”
And they did.
Bridgewater led the Vikings on a game-winning drive that spanned 78 yards on nine plays. Asiata’s third touchdown of the game — which came on a fourth-and-goal play from the 1-yard line — and tight end Rhett Ellison’s two-point conversion put the Vikings up, 35-28.
The two-point pass was Bridgewater’s final play of the game. Two plays earlier, on a third-down scramble, the rookie rolled his left ankle as he dove for the goal line. After being attended to by the Vikings medical staff, Bridgewater was carted off.
The 52,173 stunned fans at TCF Bank Stadium were silent when Christian Ponder replaced him, but the “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!” chants resumed when Bridgewater returned to the sideline. Ponder would finish the game, but Bridgewater said he could have finished off the game if the Vikings needed him to.
They didn’t, though.
The Vikings defense fought back after the Falcons took the lead. Rookie outside linebacker Anthony Barr recorded a critical third-down sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Josh Robinson each picked off a pass in the final few minutes of the game.
“We learned from last week, how you suck it up and you’ve got to keep fighting,” Zimmer said. “I thought the rest of the team, defensively we went right back out there … and kind of turned the momentum back in our favor.”
Walsh’s 55-yard field goal with 3:38 left gave the Vikings the cushion they needed to win a game that many outsiders believed they would lose after a pair of double-digit losses and the cloud of the Adrian Peterson saga still hanging overhead.
“With all the stuff we had going on, we knew people were going to write us off,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “But this team came out and got this started right.”
The Vikings now face a quick turnaround with a showdown with the Green Bay Packers, who are also 2-2 after a Sunday win, at Lambeau Field on Thursday night.
Zimmer said he “assumes” Bridgewater will be able to play. But the results of the Sunday night magnetic resonance imaging exam will be more conclusive than the head coach’s hunch.
“I told him he’s fine,” Zimmer said with a smirk.