DENVER – There is no glamour inside an NFL visiting locker room.
There are plastic nameplates above wooden lockers filled with wire hangers. After the game, large men move to and from the shower, stepping over wads of used tape, wet towels and puddles of melted ice. With trainers, media relations representatives, team executives and security, close to 100 team employees navigate a foreign, charmless room and dozens of reporters.
A postgame visiting locker room is a place from which to escape quickly, but after the Vikings lost to Denver 23-20, Teddy Bridgewater lingered. He sat at his locker quietly while his teammates showered. He moved to the locker adjacent to receiver Mike Wallace, and talked at length, spending most of the conversation nodding.
He was among the last Vikings to dress, and was the last to speak, measuring his words in carefully prepared clichés to avoid offending teammates or drawing attention to himself.
Did he take more time than usual marinating in this loss? Did this one hurt more than most?
“Definitely,’’ the second-year quarterback said. “We were in this game, we had an opportunity to win it. We were a couple of plays away from winning it. This is one of those games where we had to be perfect. We know that we’re going to be in another game like this at some point this year and we’re going to make sure we come out on top.’’
Game plans and opponents can alter the way a quarterback performs each week. Sunday, Bridgewater displayed occasional inaccuracy in the first half and sometimes scrambled his way into additional trouble when under pressure.
On a few of his poorest throws, he reverted to his fatal flaw — dropping his right elbow, causing his passes to sail. In the first half, he was problematic.
In the second half, given more time, he completed 13 of 15 passes, and ran for a first down on a crucial third-and-10 in the fourth quarter, spinning into two defenders in a fight for the last yard.
Bridgewater has started 16 NFL games, the equivalent of one full season. His record is 8-8. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. He has lost his past five starts on the road.
The numbers can be described as average. The way Bridgewater performed in the second half on Sunday, in one of the NFL’s toughest venues, against one of the fastest and fiercest defenses in the league, without two of his top three receivers, reveals more than his statistical résumé.
He completed 27 of 41 passes for 269 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He ran three times for 23 yards. He did not turn the ball over until the Vikings’ last offensive play of the game, when running back Adrian Peterson missed a block and Bridgewater fumbled.
“They have some great rushers, and we didn’t block them good enough,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
With Charles Johnson inactive and Jarius Wright severely limited because of injuries, Bridgewater completed passes to eight other teammates. He was sacked seven times, yet didn’t throw an interception against a team with excellent cornerbacks. Finally finding a rhythm in the second half, he became increasingly precise, throwing as receivers were making their breaks and before the rushers could arrive.
Bridgewater’s ability to withstand Denver’s first-half defensive blitzkrieg gave the Vikings a chance to earn an improbable victory.
“That’s what we expect from our quarterback,’’ Wallace said. “He’s going to lead us where we want to go. If everybody keeps playing the way we played in the second half, we’re going to be a good football team.’’
Last year, Bridgewater had to carry a team without a star running back or receiver. Sunday, the Broncos limited Peterson on all but one run, and Bridgewater again worked behind a makeshift line and with less-than-celebrated receivers.
Once again Bridgewater lost a close game on the road, and once again showed promise doing so.
There might not be moral victories in the NFL. Inside the cluttered visitor’s locker room, this seemed to represent a victory for morale.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. email@example.com.