Teddy Bridgewater hadn’t even taken a snap in his first NFL preseason game Friday night when he received a hero’s welcome from a Vikings fan base starved for a savior at quarterback.
Ted-dy! Ted-dy! Ted-dy!
Hey, no pressure, kid.
“I was so tuned into the game that I couldn’t hear anything that was going on around me,” he said.
If the Vikings quarterback competition was a popularity contest, Matt Cassel wouldn’t win if he handed out free drink coupons at the stadium entrance while promoting peace and love.
Alas, fans hoping to see Bridgewater light up his NFL debut like a bonfire and take a Usain Bolt lead in the quarterback competition were forced to show some patience.
Bridgewater received his baptism as a pro, but Cassel bolstered his case to be the starter as the Vikings opened their preseason schedule with a 10-6 victory over Oakland at TCF Bank Stadium.
In other words, nothing that transpired came as a huge surprise. Cassel looked like a veteran, Bridgewater like a rookie.
“At this point, I feel very comfortable with the offensive scheme,” Cassel said.
Preseason openers usually provide as much excitement as a yawn, but the Vikings quarterback competition and Bridgewater’s debut delivered a measure of intrigue.
From the start of training camp, the competition has felt legitimately open-ended, to the point that preseason games were advertised as critical in deciphering the pecking order.
Cassel got the edge in Round 1.
Playing only the opening series, Cassel completed five of six passes for 62 yards in guiding the first-team offense to a touchdown. He connected with three different receivers on passes that covered at least 13 yards.
Bridgewater replaced Cassel on the second series and received a warm ovation as he jogged onto the field. Fans started a “Ted-dy” cheer.
“They should be excited about Teddy,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “They’re going to cheer about him for a long, long time.”
He will have better nights than his first one. Penalty flags flew on four of Bridgewater’s first five plays. Later, he was stripped on a sack in the red zone. He finished 6-for-13 passing for 49 yards with two sacks in almost two quarters of play.
“I felt like it went pretty good,” he said. “There were some missed opportunities. I’ll be able to come back next week and play more aggressive.”
One preseason game shouldn’t cause an overreaction to any development, but Cassel remains the safe bet to open the season as the starter. And that’s not a bad thing.
From Day 1, Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have vowed to play to the best quarterback, period. That hasn’t sounded like a bunch of lip service, either.
Cassel must win the job and play well to keep it because this coaching staff hasn’t shown any reservations about playing a rookie quarterback.
Bridgewater’s maturity and ability to process things quickly have created optimism in Mankato that this won’t just become a redshirt season for him. That he’ll take over as the starter at some point. That would be the ideal scenario for the Vikings as they build for the future.
But here’s why the Vikings shouldn’t feel compelled to fast-track Bridgewater if there’s any doubt about his readiness: The first five games look particularly formidable, which makes Cassel the more logical choice initially.
Week 1: at St. Louis. The Rams have a stout defense that is anchored by one of the top defensive lines in the NFL.
Week 2: New England at home. Bill Belichick. Enough said.
Week 3: at New Orleans. Tough opponent and one of the loudest venues in the NFL.
Week 4: Atlanta at home. The Falcons have too much talent to be awful again. And judging by the first episode of “Hard Knocks,” they look hair-trigger angry.
Week 5: at Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers, hated rival, Lambeau Field.
The Vikings get a few extra days after that Thursday night game to evaluate things. If Cassel is playing well and the team is having success, the decision would be easy. If the team and/or Cassel struggles and the coaches believe Bridgewater is ready, that might be a perfect time to make a switch.
Zimmer hasn’t said publicly when he will name his starter, but it’s reasonable to assume that he already has an idea. Bridgewater would be a popular choice, but the Vikings shouldn’t feel pressured to rush him.