SEATTLE – When the Vikings sent their offensive starters out onto the field at Seattle’s CenturyLink Stadium, it was Shaun Hill, not Teddy Bridgewater, who trotted out to the huddle to bark out Thursday night’s first play call.
Bridgewater was in full pads for the team’s second preseason game, but he was parked on the bench, where he flipped through past plays on his electronic tablet and chatted with Hill whenever he returned to the Vikings sideline.
A Vikings spokesman said during the game that it was a “coach’s decision” to hold Bridgewater, who participated in all three team practices this week, out of the game. That led to speculation that the squeaky-clean QB was being disciplined.
Finally, after the Vikings beat the Seahawks, 18-11, coach Mike Zimmer addressed the issue. Well, sort of. So, Coach, why didn’t Bridgewater play?
“Because I sat him.”
Why did you sit him?
“Because I wanted to.”
Was it precautionary or disciplinary?
“Teddy Bridgewater is the nicest kid in the world. There is no disciplinary action ever with Teddy,” Zimmer said passionately. “It had nothing to do with discipline and it had to do with my decision.”
Was it a case of…?
“It was my decision. How many times are we going to go through this? It was my decision. Good enough?”
Zimmer’s explanation was vague, but Hill was certainly good enough Thursday.
With Hill running the offense, the Vikings got off to a strong start against a Seattle Seahawks defense that has arguably been the NFL’s best over the past few years. Wide receiver Adam Thielen made a nice adjustment on a slightly-off-the-mark third-down throw from Hill to move the chains, then tailback Matt Asiata caught a wobbler in the flat for another first down.
The drive stalled, though, at Seattle’s 41-yard line, and the Vikings were forced to punt after Hill was unable to connect with Thielen on third-and-5.
Hill completed four of his seven attempts on the opening drive for 34 yards.
The next three drives lasted three, four and then five plays even though the Seahawks pulled star cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas.
Finally, late in the second quarter, with their five starting offensive linemen still in the game protecting Hill, the Vikings got something going again.
After a 12-yard completion to Asiata, Hill hit tight end Kyle Rudolph deep down the middle for a 32-yard gain. A roughing-the-passer penalty on the Seahawks during that big play put the Vikings all the way at their 19-yard line.
“The safety really cheated over to our strength and Kyle did a good job on his release and I was able to pick up his angle and he made a good play on it,” Hill said of the long completion.
Tight end MyCole Pruitt had a 12-yard catch on third-and-7. Then running back Jerick McKinnon, who got the start with Adrian Peterson again being held out as a precaution, ran behind left tackle Matt Kalil for a 1-yard touchdown.
The Vikings went for two, and Hill found Asiata in the end zone to make it 8-0.
That was it for Hill, who gave way to rookie Joel Stave with 69 seconds left in the second quarter. Hill completed 10 of his 17 attempts for 129 yards. He averaged 7.6 yards per pass attempt and had a passer rating of 82.7.
It was not always pretty, but perhaps Hill’s play will quiet some of the concerns about whether the 36-year-old is still a viable backup. He had been talk-radio fodder in recent weeks, and the Vikings also reportedly inquired about Nick Foles before the quarterback signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It was great for Shaun to play,” Zimmer said. “We had to take a good look at him and make sure that we’re going into the season with a backup we feel good about. I thought he managed everything we did, the huddle. I thought he got the right checks in. And he had an opportunity to get the ball down the field. … It was good.”
Bridgewater said he would have loved "to be out there with my guys," but he understood Zimmer's reasoning, though he wasn't sharing what that was either.
“You don’t argue with Coach Zimmer,” Bridgewater said. “So we left it at that.”
With Stave leading the second-stringers, the Vikings took an 11-0 lead into halftime after kicker Blair Walsh made a field goal from 27 yards, which was coincidentally the distance on his infamous miss in January’s playoff loss to the Seahawks at TCF Bank Stadium. This kick was on the right hash, though, and it was more than 80 degrees colder when Walsh went wide left in January.
While the Vikings opted not to play Bridgewater, the Seahawks not only started Russell Wilson but played the Pro Bowl quarterback for the entire first half. He completed only five of his 11 passes for 77 yards and was sacked four times.
Zimmer was pleased with his pass rush against the mobile QB, but he was not with his defense’s efforts against the run. For the second straight game, the starters and second-stringers on defense could not slow their opponent’s running game. Running back Christine Michael rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries and the Seahawks as a team averaged 5 yards per carry in the first half.
Despite that, the Vikings were able to keep Wilson and Co. off the scoreboard. Seattle backups, though, staged a second-half comeback to tie the score at 11-11.
After Walsh missed a go-ahead field-goal attempt from 47 yards -- you guessed it, wide left -- the Vikings snatched back the lead with 1:23 left in regulation when cornerback Marcus Sherels intercepted Seahawks rookie QB Trevone Boykin and returned it 53 yards to the end zone for the deciding score.
“He does a lot of things for us and does a nice job,” Zimmer said. “So it was nice to see him being rewarded tonight and he made a nice play and got a score.”
Sorry, Sherels. The story in this one was the starting quarterback who didn’t start, the team and its head coach’s cryptic explanations of why he didn’t, and the old gunslinger who showed he might still have some bullets left in his right arm.