Any parent who has taught a child to ride a bike knows how it feels to go from controlling the situation to trusting the situation.
One moment, everybody is safe. Dad has one grip on the handlebar and the other on the seat. But riding a bike later in life is much better when Pops isn’t hanging on for dear life at 3 mph. So there is a time to let go and realize that skinned knees are part of the risk-and-reward development process.
That’s where the Vikings coaching staff is with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The coaches trust that he will ride his bike consistently well one day. He might even pop wheelies and do backflips. But first, there are going to be times like Thursday night, when he’s going along very well but makes a mistake and ends up on the ground in a twisted heap.
The postmortem on Thursday night’s 23-20 loss at Arizona seemed to be fixated on who was to blame for the Vikings’ last offensive play. With 13 seconds left and no timeouts, the Vikings’ options were to attempt a 48-yard field goal on third down or trust Bridgewater to run one more quick play.
The coaches had every reason to trust Bridgewater. None more obvious than the play they had just run with 18 seconds left.
“Actually, the play before was a very similar play,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “We tried to get the ball to the sideline and it wasn’t there, and he threw it out of bounds. It took five seconds.”
That was Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner letting go of the bike. That’s what coaches should do when they face a 48-yard field goal with time for one more play and a quarterback with whom they’re developing trust.
Bridgewater failed to execute. He hesitated for a split second and was stripped of the ball.
The bike tipped over and the youngster toppled. But before we deport the young man, let’s also examine how he fought back from the team’s lifeless 38-7 loss to Seattle four days earlier to put the injury-riddled Vikings in this position in the closing seconds of a road game against one of the NFL’s best teams.
Let’s take a look at what Bridgewater did on third downs leading up to that final snap. He completed eight of nine passes for 99 yards, six first downs and a game-tying fourth-quarter touchdown. Here is a closer look at those plays:
• First quarter, third-and-2 from the Vikings 28: Against a six-man rush, Bridgewater quickly sees no one covering Matt Asiata, dumps the ball off and the Vikings gain 22 yards while answering Arizona’s game-opening field goal with a touchdown drive.
• First quarter, third-and-9 from the Vikings 24: A conservative receiver screen against a blitz isn’t blocked well and gains only 6 yards.
• Second quarter, third-and-5 from the Arizona 30: The protection breaks down against a four-man rush. Bridgewater steps up in the pocket, ad-libs with a shovel toss to Jerick McKinnon and the Vikings gain 8 yards.
• Second quarter, third-and-2 from the Vikings 28: A beautiful pass thrown on time in the right flat is caught by Kyle Rudolph. Safety Tony Jefferson plays the ball and whiffs, allowing Rudolph to turn and gain 17 yards.
• Third quarter, third-and-6 from the Vikings’ 33: Against a five-man rush, Bridgewater looks right, sees the receiver covered and turns and fires to Rudolph on a crossing route that gains 8 yards.
• Third quarter, third-and-12 from the Vikings 18: One of the more poorly blocked plays results in the pass protection breaking down against a three-man rush. Under pressure and looking at eight defenders in coverage, Bridgewater has no choice but to check down to Asiata, who gains only 8 yards.
• Fourth quarter, third-and-10 from the Arizona 36: A safety blitz off the blind side that Asiata doesn’t block well enough leads to Bridgewater throwing the ball away.
• Fourth quarter, third-and-9 from the Arizona 47: A delayed blitz sends six defenders after Bridgewater. He quickly notices the extra rushers leave Mike Wallace uncovered with room to run. A short throw over the middle turns into a 23-yard gain.
• Fourth quarter, third-and-goal from the Arizona 7: A seven-man rush forces Bridgewater to drift farther back, but his eyes stay on his targets. He turns quickly to Wallace, who is crossing right to left into the open. An easy pitch-and-catch touchdown makes the Cardinals pay for their all-out blitz.
So young Theodore has shown he can ride the bike. How consistently well and for how long? Who knows? But there’s evidence and eight wins to suggest he’s pedaling in the right direction, even if he still wipes out occasionally.