Landover, Md. – After an NFL game, reporters and camera operators flood each locker room. The head coach and starting quarterback will walk to an interview room; most players will speak in front of their dressing stalls.
By the end of the night, countertops in the press box will be heaped with a forest’s worth of paper bearing transcribed quotes, enough to create a bonfire of the inanities. Sunday, Mike Zimmer said more in one short, subtle sentence than all of those recyclables combined, at once writing the mystery of the season and hinting at its ending.
“Well,’’ he said. “I’ve got a plan.’’
The Vikings had just beaten Washington 38-30 at FedEx Field. Zimmer’s team is 7-2. His current starting quarterback, Case Keenum, played the best half of his career to give the Vikings a 28-17 lead, then survived two amateurish interceptions to run his and the team’s winning streak to five.
Zimmer was given a chance to say that Keenum remains his starter, to quell a week’s worth of questions before a big game against Keenum’s former team, and in that moment he may have revealed how badly he wants Teddy Bridgewater to be his quarterback.
“We’ll just see how it goes,’’ Zimmer said. “Sometimes plans change. We’ll see how it goes and we’ll sit down this week and visit about it and kind of go from there.’’
The Vikings led 35-20 in the third quarter. They faced third-and-8 at the Washington 39. Keenum felt pressure, drifted left and without setting his feet threw a helium-filled pass into triple coverage, where safety D.J. Swearinger intercepted it.
On his next pass, Keenum threw toward the sideline and Swearinger intercepted again, and only Keenum’s tackle kept him from scoring.
In one game, Keenum wrote a brilliant dissertation on why he should keep the job, then jammed it into the nearest shredder.
“Interceptions are going to happen,’’ Zimmer said. “But there are those times you don’t want to do that. Because we kind of had the game pretty much in hand at that point. Those two interceptions, that’s how you let teams come back in the ballgame.’’
Because these are the Vikings, they can’t reach 7-2 with a healthy roster and a simple quarterback depth chart. With this team, internal drama is as commonplace as ankle tape.
Before the game began, Bridgewater cried, overwhelmed at wearing a game uniform after missing 24 games following a devastating knee injury. Afterward, he praised everyone from his neighbors in Liberty City, Fla., to locker room neighbor Keenum. “Case is awesome,’’ Bridgewater said. “My spirit just sensed that he was a good man, and the spirit never lies.’’
Keenum said: “I may have a Teddy Bridgewater jersey at home. He’s a great dude, a great teammate. I told somebody on the field that Teddy definitely raises the cool factor of the quarterback group.’’
The Vikings do not have an experienced quarterback under contract for next season. They can’t bet on Sam Bradford’s full recovery. In the second half against Washington, Keenum made consecutive throws that illustrated why the Texans and Rams benched him.
Despite his injury, the trade for Bradford and the rise of Keenum, Bridgewater remains the Vikings’ best hope for the future. Now all Zimmer has to decide is when the future will resume.
How important is it to him to play this year? “It’s very important,’’ he said. “But at the same time I think I just have to approach each day with the mind-set that, hey, I’m going to get better.’’
Look at this from the perspective of the Vikings’ decision-makers: They owe it to this team to play their best quarterback, and they owe it to the franchise to be able to make an informed decision on the position for next year and beyond.
Of course they’re going to play Bridgewater. The only question is when. Zimmer told us as much in one short, revealing sentence.