Jarius Wright's 87-yard catch and dash in OT is a lightning bolt of relief
Jarius Wright cruised across the goal line, took a second to let the most thrilling moment of his football life sink in, then did an impromptu leap into the first row of seats at TCF Bank Stadium.
A swarm of Vikings teammates — first Gerald Hodges, followed by Matt Kalil, Joe Berger, then many others — stormed to the corner of the stadium to celebrate the Vikings' 30-24 overtime victory over the Jets with Wright. An exception was Greg Jennings, who sprinted, his arms raised high, the other way into the tunnel.
The calmest of the bunch was Teddy Bridgewater. Of course.
The rookie quarterback strolled to the sideline, as nonchalant then amid the jubilant chaos as he was seconds earlier, when deep in Vikings territory he stared down another all-out blitz, checked into a screen play before the snap, then fired the ball out to Wright.
The speedy wideout snagged the pass, slipped a tackle and split a pair of blocks to get loose down the right sideline.
"I knew it was going to be a touchdown," Bridgewater said. "Jarius, he's a fast guy. … I knew that once we got the play set up, [Jarius would] do the rest."
Eighty-seven yards later, the Vikings had their second overtime win of the season — and Wright was mobbed by teammates and fans.
"This is one of the happiest moments of my life," Wright said after the celebration spilled into the locker room.
On Sunday, the Vikings found themselves in a tight game that coach Mike Zimmer felt shouldn't have been close. And again, it was Bridgewater — with the help of Wright — who was able to secure a victory for the Vikings, who improved their record to 6-7.
Bridgewater completed 19 of 27 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns, and with his touchdown pass in overtime, he produced the fourth game-winning drive of his young career.
From an athletic standpoint, what Bridgewater did on the walk-off winner was nothing special. His pass was actually a little high, forcing Wright to leave his feet to make the reception. But from a mental standpoint, Bridgewater displayed poise that is uncommon for a rookie quarterback. Bridgewater recognized that the Jets were sending seven blitzers, and with the Vikings giving him a play call with the option to check into a screen play, he made the right decision.
"I just saw the look and got us into the right play," Bridgewater said.
That play was the second-longest overtime touchdown reception in NFL history; in 1985, Ron Jaworski connected with Mike Quick on a 99-yarder for Philadelphia.
Sunday's game had a wild start, too, to go with that thrilling ending.
Hodges, starting place of injured Anthony Barr at outside linebacker, intercepted Jets quarterback Geno Smith on the first play of the game and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown.
"When you see that end zone, you get that running back feeling like nothing can stop me," Hodges said of the first pick-six of his life. "When you're like 10 to 15 yards away, that is all you smell."
The play, which ended 12 seconds into the game, tied for the fastest defensive touchdown in Vikings history.
It was the first of six scores in the first 17 minutes, including a Jets safety and fluky touchdown that came when fullback Jerome Felton jumped on a loose ball in the end zone after wide receiver Charles Johnson fumbled while reaching for the goal line.
Felton's first career touchdown gave the Vikings a 21-12 lead, but the Jets chipped away to tie the score early in the fourth quarter.
Bridgewater and the Vikings reclaimed the lead with a Blair Walsh field goal with 5 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the quarter. And after the Jets tied the score again, Bridgewater put Walsh in position to end the game at the end of regulation. Alas, Walsh's 56-yard attempt fell comically short, and the game went to overtime, setting the stage for Teddy Time.
Wright's winning catch gave the Vikings two receivers with more than 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. Johnson, who caught a 56-yard bomb from Bridgewater in the first quarter, had 103 receiving yards, 20 fewer than Wright.
But shortly after overtime ended, Zimmer wasn't exactly in a celebratory mood.
He was fuming because Smith, whom the Jets trusted to throw just 13 passes last week, had 254 passing yards against his Vikings defense. Former Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin accounted for nearly half of Smith's production.
Zimmer was irritated that Kalil, his embattled left tackle, cost the Vikings with an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on an extra point. And he wasn't pleased with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's fumble on the opening kickoff return of the second half.
"It was good to win and it was good to see we overcame a lot of adversity, although most of the adversity was a lot caused by ourselves," Zimmer said.
But Zimmer could feel good about his rookie quarterback, who played — and celebrated — with uncanny calm late Sunday afternoon.
"The thing that the veterans really respect and appreciate about Teddy is the way he prepares, the way he studies, the way he cares about his job and I think the way he loves playing this game," Zimmer said.