Teddy Bridgewater spends so much time in the locker room after games there have been search parties dispatched, flares fired. Following in the languorous footsteps of Kevin Garnett and Joe Mauer, Bridgewater is a Twin Cities sports star who seems to spend time after games studying for his master’s, or parsing “The Canterbury Tales.”
Bridgewater holds long conversations with teammates. He studies the stat sheet. He stares at the wall. He lingers.
“I hate to lose,” he said Sunday afternoon, as he fist-bumped teammates by the TCF Bank Stadium exit. “But even after a win, you sit back and let it soak in and try to do all of your celebrating in the locker room. Try to have a short-term memory. Shift the focus to the next opponent. Think about some of the things you could have done better, whether it’s a protection call or a pass. I just try to sit there and think.”
On Dec. 6, Bridgewater performed erratically in a 38-7 embarrassment against Seattle. Four days later, he produced a career-best 335 yards in a close loss against Arizona, and on Sunday he offered the most complete and efficient performance of his career in a 38-17 victory over Chicago at TCF Bank Stadium.
Bridgewater completed 17 of 20 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns and rushed four times for 17 yards and another score. He did not come close to throwing an interception. His 85 percent completion percentage was a career best and the third-highest in team history.
He took only one sack. He completed passes to seven different receivers. He thrived with Adrian Peterson touching the ball only six times in the second half because of a sprained ankle.
Bridgewater has played quarterback in the NFL for two years. In each, he has responded to a midseason slump by fixing his throwing mechanics and readjusting his career arc.
This is why you can’t dismiss Bridgewater after a bad game. He’s too responsible, too dedicated to repeat his mistakes. “The fight this kid has …” Peterson said. “The determination, the willpower. I’ve been talking about it all year, and the last two weeks I’ve seen a different look in his eye.”
To find a Vikings quarterback who produced four passing and one rushing touchdowns in one day, you’d have to go back to the first game in franchise history, and revisit Fran Tarkenton.
To find a Vikings quarterback who produced a higher passer rating than Bridgewater’s 154.4, you’d have to go back to 2003, when Gus Frerotte threw four TDs, three to Randy Moss.
To find a Vikings quarterback who headed toward the playoffs on a statistical high, you’d have to go back to 2009, and Brett Favre.
To find a Vikings quarterback able to overcome a midseason slump and re-establish himself as a rising star, you’d have to go back to last December, when Bridgewater finished the 2014 season on a five-game hot streak.
Before throwing four touchdown passes Sunday, Bridgewater had thrown just four in his previous seven games, as he played cautiously and tried to let Peterson carry the offense. In the past two games, Bridgewater for the first time has been both prolific and efficient.
Norv Turner’s offensive philosophy is based on power running and deep passing. He has adjusted the Vikings’ approach the past two weeks to emphasize short throws, allowing Bridgewater to build rhythm early in games and his receivers to show off their ability to run after the catch.
Still, two downfield throws Sunday displayed Bridgewater’s growth. In the first quarter, Peterson went in motion to the left sideline. At the snap, Peterson stood still, occupying his defender. Receiver Stefon Diggs bolted for the left corner of the end zone. Bridgewater threw before Diggs broke open, and hit him in stride with a 15-yard touchdown pass.
In the second quarter, receiver Mike Wallace broke open deep over the middle. Bridgewater and Wallace have missed on a dozen deep passes this season. This time, Bridgewater threw toward Wallace’s back, pulling him away from the helping safety, and Wallace made a fine, spinning catch for 34 yards.
As Bridgewater lingered in the locker room on Sunday afternoon, he couldn’t have had too many regrets.
“I said it last week,” Bridgewater said. “This is the formula for our success.”