ARLINGTON, TEXAS – Teddy Bridgewater couldn’t get the Vikings into the end zone on either of his two drives against the Dallas Cowboys defense. But as he walked to the sideline Saturday night and unsnapped his chin strap for likely the last time this preseason, the second-year quarterback should have felt pretty good about his performance over the past three weeks.
Bridgewater in the team’s all-important penultimate preseason game was arguably sharper than he had been in his first three exhibition appearances — and that’s saying something. He completed all seven of his passes for 76 yards before exiting the game late in the first quarter with a 3-0 lead. The Vikings went on to win 28-14.
“It’s important for us to go through our progressions and make our reads and make the correct throws,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “And that’s why his completion percentage was 100 percent tonight, because he continues to do those things.”
On one play on his final drive, Bridgewater displayed many of the qualities that have the Vikings believing that the 22-year-old is ready to ascend in his second season.
Before the snap, Bridgewater noticed that the Cowboys were loading up to stop the run. So he checked into a passing play and backed up into the shotgun.
During the play itself, with defensive end Jeremy Mincey about to barrel into him, Bridgewater stepped up and heaved a pinpoint deep ball to wide receiver Mike Wallace, who had streaked behind Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr down the right sideline.
Awareness. Pocket poise. Touch. It was all there on his prettiest play of the preseason.
No, it was not a perfect performance for Bridgewater. After the 39-yard pass play to Wallace, Bridgewater took a sack, the first time he went down all preseason. So the Vikings had to settle for a 28-yard field goal from struggling kicker Blair Walsh.
But if those were indeed Bridgewater’s final snaps of the preseason, he emphatically stamped his name in the team’s record book.
By completing 29 of his 35 preseason passes, Bridgewater will have shattered Rich Gannon’s team record for preseason completion percentage. His 82.9 percent mark topped Gannon’s best mark by nearly a dozen percentage points.
“It’s just the preseason,” said Bridgewater, who has not thrown an interception this preseason and has a 111.3 passer rating. “But I do want to continue to aim for 70 percent throughout the course of the regular season.”
The Cowboys mixed up their coverages in a few unsuccessful attempts to confuse Bridgewater, but tougher tests than this no-name Dallas defense await. Achieving his stated goal of a 70 percent completion percentage in the regular season won’t be easy, but his preseason play suggests it isn’t a ridiculous target.
Early in the second quarter, with Bridgewater done for the night, the Cowboys took a 7-3 lead when quarterback Tony Romo connected with wide receiver Terrance Williams on a deep crossing route. Williams cut in front of safeties Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith before winning the foot race to the end zone.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Vikings reclaimed the lead in a flash.
Cordarrelle Patterson caught the kickoff 7 yards deep in the end zone and followed running back Matt Asiata toward the right sideline. He then cut inside of Asiata’s block, spun Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey around in the open field and then cruised for his first kickoff return for a touchdown since his All-Pro season of 2013.
“I just saw the end zone and the kicker,” Patterson said. “I would not let him get me.”
At that point with his team leading 10-7, Zimmer had seen enough of most of his starters and began removing them to avoid losing another to injury. First, the first-stringers on defense departed. Then went the skill-position players on offense. Finally, the top offensive linemen left after blocking for backup quarterback Shaun Hill for a couple of series.
The Cowboys kept their big guns in the game, and Romo, given tons of time in the pocket, hit rookie receiver Lucky Whitehead for an 8-yard touchdown pass and 14-10 lead. That go-ahead score was set up by Cole Beasley’s 40 yard-punt return.
After Walsh’s 45-yard field goal late in the first half cut the Dallas lead to 14-13, the Vikings took the lead for good in the third quarter. Dominique Williams scored on a 3-yard run, and the ensuing two-point conversion made it 21-14. A TD run by Joe Banyard late in the fourth quarter sealed the win.
With the victory, the Vikings have a 4-0 preseason record and have yet to lose one of these exhibitions under their second-year head coach.
More important, with the season opener in San Francisco only two weeks away, their first-team offense continued to look efficient on Saturday night.
“We want to continue to just allow that to carry into the regular season, set our sights on September 14 against San Fran and go from there,” Bridgewater said.
We probably won’t see Bridgewater in a purple jersey again until that Monday night game against the 49ers. The Vikings aren’t expected to play many, if any, starters in Thursday’s night’s preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans.
But after his insanely accurate preseason, what more is left for the kid to show?