Teddy Bridgewater entered his second season with the Vikings in 2015, with 13 starts behind him as a rookie. He completed 65.3 percent (292 of 447) of his passes . Those completions totaled only 3,231 yards, an average of 201.9 yards.
He also passed for a paltry 14 touchdowns with nine interceptions. In his 13 games as a rookie in 2014, those numbers were 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His yards per completion were also close to identical: 7.3 yards in 2014, and 7.2 yards last season.
The Vikings managed to make the playoffs at 11-5 despite the feeble passing offense. They also were going to beat Seattle in a playoff upset, until Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal attempt and the Seahawks escaped TCF Bank Refigerator with a 10-9 victory in January.
Bridgewater did move the Vikings into position for that failed field goal, although the passing numbers vs. Seattle were again less than awe-inspiring: 17 for 24 for 146 yards (6.1 per completion), without a touchdown or an interception.
The Bridgewater that the Vikings have seen in his first two seasons as an NFL quarterback (30 of 33 starts, counting the playoff game) can be replaced with a mid-level trade or perhaps even a waiver wire claim over the weekend.
What can’t be replaced, not by today’s newly-anointed starter, Shaun Hill, or anyone picked up by General Manager Rick Spielman during this cutdown period, is the quarterback that the Vikings were expecting Bridgewater to become in his third season.
Coach Mike Zimmer did offer slight criticisms of Bridgewater last season for not “cutting loose’’ more often, and for occasionally making life tough on the offensive line by holding the ball for an extra second.
He took 86 sacks for 577 yards in losses in those 30 starts, and a fair share of those were on a young quarterback and not due strictly to jail breaks taking place against the Vikings’ offensive line.
The Vikings were without starters John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt (both gone now), but the five guys they did have wound up starting every game last season, which was unique in the modern NFL.
The lack of touchdown throws and inability to finish drives did not cause the Vikings’ confidence in Bridgewater to waver.
It was the belief of Spielman, Zimmer, etc., and a loud majority of Vikings fans, that their guy Teddy’s modest numbers could be traced to quick pressure allowed by the offensive line, a receiving corps that got a negative contribution from expensive veteran Mike Wallace, and a run-heavy offense with the return of Adrian Peterson as the NFL’s leading rusher.
And with this as the working theory, the Vikings set about to make things easier for Bridgewater. They brought in two assistants who were former head coaches: Pat Shurmur to add his thoughts to offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s game plans, and fiery Tony Sparano to increase the offensive line’s hostility level toward opponents.
More importantly, the most-aggressive moves in the free agent market were for offensive linemen: big, rugged Alex Boone to play left guard, and large, talented, enigmatic Andre Smith to play right tackle. With their first-round pick, they took Laquon Treadwell from Ole Miss, a rangy receiver alleged to be perfect for Bridgewater’s middle-range throws.
The protection would be better. The addition of Treadwell, along with the return to health of Charles Johnson, and continued production from Stefon Diggs, and irrepressible Adam Thielen from MSU Mankato and Jarius Wright as options in the slot, and a bevy of tight ends, and Jerick McKinnon out of the back field, and maybe even Cordarrelle Patterson …
Well, Bridgewater would have the best protection he’s had by a mile (or a full second), and he would have more receiving options than a pass slinger could ask, and the Teddy of 2016 was going to be a consistent playmaker and not the young quarterback who had been just OK.
And he tore up his left knee on Tuesday in hard-to-fathom fashion, and he’s done for this season, and who knows how long after that?
The Vikings can replace the Bridgewater who was along for the ride in a 11-5 playoff season of 2015. What they can’t replace is the difference-making Bridgewater that they envisioned for 2016.