The Vikings’ Super Bowl hopes took a major hit Tuesday afternoon when starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a knee injury that likely will end his season.
Bridgewater had a dislocation that led to a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and other structural damage and faces “significant” recovery time.
The team released a statement saying surgery will be scheduled within the next few days.
The Vikings were at Winter Park on Tuesday when, 25 minutes into practice and during the first team drill of the day, Bridgewater dropped to pass and crumpled to the turf without being touched.
As Bridgewater clutched his left knee, linebacker Eric Kendricks and other teammates spiked helmets and shouted expletives. Some Vikings dropped to one knee in prayer or disbelief as athletic trainers rushed to the third-year quarterback.
Two minutes later, coach Mike Zimmer ended practice and sent his players inside. Running backs Adrian Peterson and Matt Asiata, guard Alex Boone, defensive end Brian Robison, cornerback Terence Newman and backup quarterback Shaun Hill lingered on the field, surrounding Bridgewater as the athletic trainers appeared to place an air cast on the quarterback’s left leg.
Soon, an ambulance pulled up to Winter Park with sirens blaring and whisked Bridgewater away.
Zimmer met with reporters two hours after Bridgewater went down, but before the official diagnosis. It was clear the coach was expecting bad news, saying his quarterback was sedated and getting an MRI at a hospital. Zimmer didn’t see the injury live, but after watching practice tape of the injury, he called it “a freaky deal.”
Asked if there is any chance Bridgewater will play this season, he said, “It doesn’t look good right now.”
The Vikings were expecting a breakout season from Bridgewater after two solid seasons in the NFL in which he completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 6,150 yards and 28 touchdowns with 21 interceptions and an 87.0 career passer rating. In February, he played in his first Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.
Bridgewater’s strong play in training camp translated to the preseason, when he completed 18 of his 23 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. In Sunday’s 23-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers at U.S. Bank Stadium, he showed no signs of the shoulder soreness that sidelined him for the second preseason game on Aug. 18 while passing for 161 yards and a touchdown.
An emotional Zimmer said he already had reached out on the phone to his mentor, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, and spiritually to his late father, Bill, a longtime high school coach in Illinois. He also referenced the sudden death of his wife, Vikki, in 2009 when asked about dealing with the “grief” of losing Bridgewater.
The resilient head coach vowed that the Vikings will keep fighting and dared people to count them out.
“You know today is a disappointing day,” Zimmer said. “We’re not going to stick our heads in the sand. We’re not going to tuck our tail between our legs. We’re not looking for excuses. We’re going to go out and fight like we always do. We got some great football players on this team. We’ll figure ways to win football games if he’s not here, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
A statement from head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman read, in part: “After undergoing an MRI, it was determined that Teddy suffered a complete tear to his ACL and other structural damage. Fortunately, there appears to be no nerve or arterial damage. Surgical repair will be scheduled within the next few days. Although the recovery time will be significant, we expect Teddy to make a full recovery. … Teddy has already displayed the attitude needed to overcome this injury and attack his rehab.”
For now, Zimmer and the Vikings must figure out how to win with Hill.
The 36-year-old was expected to be Bridgewater’s top backup heading into the regular season. Undrafted rookie Joel Stave was vying to make the 53-man roster as their third quarterback with second-year signal-caller Taylor Heinicke still on the non-football injury list after foot surgery in July.
Heinicke, whom the Vikings hoped would push Hill to be Bridgewater’s primary backup, could resume practicing in three weeks, according to a league source.
The Vikings waived recently signed quarterback Brad Sorensen on Tuesday morning, but Zimmer said the Vikings would consider bringing him back.
The team expressed interest in free-agent quarterback Nick Foles a month ago as additional insurance for Bridgewater, but he signed with Kansas City.
Zimmer said after Bridgewater was injured that he spoke with General Manager Rick Spielman about acquiring another veteran quarterback. The free-agent options are slim, with T.J. Yates and Michael Vick leading the list, though final roster cuts for all NFL teams loom on Saturday.
But Zimmer also voiced confidence in Hill, who has started only eight games in the past five seasons and never has quarterbacked a team to the playoffs.
“This isn’t about a one-man deal,” Zimmer said. “We all feel terrible if it is real significant for Teddy, but this is about the team. We have a real good team. We have a good defensive team. Our offensive line is much better. We have good receivers. We have maybe the best running back in the NFL. So this is about a team, and it’s about us trying to figure out ways to win football games.”
The Vikings, who Bridgewater guided to an 11-5 record and the NFC North title in 2015, open the regular season at the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 11.
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