Near the end of the first half, with their team in mid-embarrassment, Vikings fans began chanting Teddy Bridgewater’s first name. They sounded enthusiastic. But then, it’s difficult to chant a question mark.
With Bridgewater at the helm, the Vikings’ offense on Sunday gave new meaning to the team’s Saturday morning gatherings, known as “The Donut Club.’’ Facing a defense that gave up 30 points at home the previous week, the Vikings’ offense produced zero points in a 38-7 loss, their only touchdown coming on a kickoff return that Cordarrelle Patterson may still be celebrating.
Patterson was so happy to cut Seattle’s lead to 28 points he may have asked where Adrian Peterson rented that camel.
The Seahawks stacked the line of scrimmage, playing only one safety deep, as is their custom. They dared the Vikings to run through them or pass over them. The Vikings accomplished neither.
That’s Bridgewater’s fault. He spent last December proving he could carry an NFL offense. He spent the first Sunday of this December demonstrating an alarming regression.
The operational theory for most observers this summer was that Bridgewater would thrive because of Peterson’s presence. Instead, the knowledge that the offense revolves around Peterson has turned Bridgewater into a overly cautious game manager instead of the confident passer he proved to be under less-advantageous circumstances at the end of his rookie season.
During the last five games of the 2014 season, Bridgewater played without an established running back, a star receiver or a solid offensive line, yet completed 72 percent of his passes for 1,230 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
He looked then like a franchise quarterback. Sunday, he looked like Christian Ponder. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 118 yards and an interception, proving generally accurate but unproductive.
His interception was the result of a simple overthrow, and his longest completion against a team daring him to throw deep was 25 yards. He frequently double-pumps or hesitates when he has a receiver open. He favors short, risk-free throws that do nothing to stretch or challenge a defense.
It would be easy to credit Seattle’s defense, but the Seahawks have given up 30 points three times this season, and 20 points another three times. There are plays to be made against Seattle; Bridgewater and his receivers couldn’t find them.
The last four games of the 2014 season, Bridgewater had completions of at least 40 yards. Over the last five weeks, he has only one completion of 40 yards or more.
There is a saying among those who build guitars: “Everything affects everything.’’ Translation: Changing one component could alter the way an instrument sounds, or functions, even if the new component is superior. Peterson’s return has made the Vikings a better team but has not had the desired effect on Bridgewater. Instead of capitalizing on defenses obsessed with Peterson, he has become obsessed with avoiding mistakes.
At this stage of his development, Bridgewater needs to be less like Ponder circa 2012 and more like Brett Favre circa forever. He needs to throw with confidence downfield. He needs to attack.
I recently reviewed all of the Vikings’ offensive plays this season. What I saw was a quarterback determined not to make a mistake. That led to him scrambling madly, frequently throwing the ball out of bounds, and overthrowing receivers deep.
Bridgewater’s caution has helped the Vikings beat lesser teams. It has also hurt them on the big stage. You don’t beat good teams with 5-yard passes.
I asked Vikings coach Mike Zimmer if he was concerned about Bridgewater. “No,’’ he said. “I don’t think so.’’
He didn’t sound convincing.
Optically, Bridgewater did not benefit from sharing a field with Russell Wilson on Sunday. Wilson is Bridgewater’s antithesis. He craves big plays.
Wilson rushed nine times for 51 yards and a touchdown, and had a 53-yard score called back. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 274 yards and three scores, with no interceptions. He threw a 53-yard touchdown pass on the play after his long touchdown run was called back.
Wilson swings for the fences. Too often, Bridgewater is content to bunt.