NEW ORLEANS – The dance-club hit “Turn Down for What?” boomed over the Mercedes-Benz Superdome sound system, which was certainly not being turned down for anything with a should-have-been-wide-eyed rookie quarterback entering the game.
But Teddy Bridgewater, the 32nd overall pick in May’s NFL draft, appeared to be calm and comfortable as he strolled into the Vikings huddle, pulled his 10 offensive teammates close together and barked out his first play call as their quarterback.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Bridgewater later said, smiling slightly at the notion that he, even at age 21, was capable of feeling such an emotion. “I mean, this is where I wanted to be. Unfortunately, the way it happened wasn’t the way I expected it to. I was just able to go out there and relax and look at my teammates and have them trust me.”
The Bridgewater era began Sunday after starter Matt Cassel broke his left foot in the second quarter of a 20-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints, limped off the field and was carted into the locker room, ending his day.
Bridgewater played with poise after coming off the bench and did not let the loud New Orleans crowd rattle him. He protected the football while completing 12 of his 20 attempts for 150 yards with no interceptions. But he could not steer the Vikings, who haven’t scored a touchdown in more than seven quarters, into the end zone.
With several fractured bones in his foot, Cassel is not expected to return to the field any time soon, if at all this season, so Bridgewater, the quarterback of the future, is now the quarterback of the present as the Vikings (1-2) try to right a season that has quickly gone off the rails.
“He will be ready,” head coach Mike Zimmer said.
When Bridgewater entered Sunday’s game, the Superdome was rocking. The Saints had scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and the Vikings trailed 13-3.
Bridgewater’s first NFL play was a handoff to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, but the Saints (1-2) snuffed out the end-around for a 7-yard loss. His first pass attempt came on the next play, when he fired a strong throw outside the numbers to wideout Greg Jennings, who ran a comeback route. On third down, he smartly checked down to running back Matt Asiata, who took it 41 yards into the red zone. Blair Walsh booted a field goal to cap off the drive.
Bridgewater drove the Vikings across the Fleur-de-lis logo at midfield only once more on the afternoon, but he showed his promise by making smart decisions under center and surprised a little by eluding pass rushers to extend plays in and out of the pocket.
As far as the game plan went, Zimmer said the Vikings “did taper it down some” once the rookie entered the game, largely because Bridgewater has had limited repetitions with the starters in practice. But the team did take advantage of his mobility, rolling him out on a few plays and calling a quarterback draw — which worked — on a third-and-7 play in the red zone.
“We knew he is a little bit more of a runner,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We rushed five guys sometimes to try to keep him in the pocket.”
After the game, Bridgewater and Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 27 of his 35 attempts for 293 yards and two touchdowns and converted two third-and-long plays as the Saints hogged the ball for the final 6:58 of the game, exchanged a few words at midfield.
“He came up and told me I had a good game,” Bridgewater said.
The Vikings will need him to play better, though, or the 2014 campaign quickly will become another rebuilding season.
They have lost their past two games by a combined 34 points, and they are trying to move on after another significant loss — star running back Adrian Peterson, who is on the commissioner’s exempt list and out indefinitely as his child abuse case goes through the courts.
“We need to play better,” Zimmer said. “I keep trying to talk to this football team about being a tough, physical, aggressive and smart team. Some of the things we did today, I think that we saw improvement. … Really we are trying to build [to where] we can withstand a punch here and there and then get a chance to throw some.”
The Vikings host the high-scoring Atlanta Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium this weekend before lacing up the gloves for back-to-back divisional clashes against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.
Bridgewater, who exudes a quiet confidence that belies his baby face, says he will be ready to come out swinging Sunday.
“Moving forward, I think I am definitely going to be ready,” Bridgewater said.
“I just need to get more practice reps throughout the week. … We now have seven days to prepare for Atlanta so we have time to develop that chemistry with the guys and [I’ll] be able to be a better quarterback.”