The Vikings’ first NFC North contest of 2016 was where Sam Bradford made his scintillating debut against Green Bay as the team’s starting quarterback. It remains to be seen whether Bradford will be available for the Vikings’ first division game of 2017.
Bradford didn’t practice Wednesday, getting a day of rest as part of the team’s attempt to get him ready for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions.
Case Keenum, who threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, spoke to reporters in the locker room at the juncture in the week where the starting QB typically addresses the media. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has said Bradford will be the Vikings’ quarterback when he returns from the left knee injury that’s kept him out the past two games.
“I’m going to give him the day off today,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “But we’re doing everything we can to get him ready to play Sunday. We’ll just give him one more day of rest.”
Bradford, who injured his left knee in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints, flew to Pensacola, Fla., last Friday for a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, the noted surgeon who repaired Bradford’s torn ACL in both 2013 and 2014. The appointment, according to an NFL source, confirmed the Vikings’ initial belief that Bradford’s latest injury would not require surgery, but the team is still in something of a holding pattern as it waits for the pain and swelling in Bradford’s knee to subside.
Keenum was nominated for NFC offensive player of the week honors after setting a career high in yardage in Sunday’s 34-17 victory, hitting deep throws to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs while being hit only three times. The Vikings posted 494 yards of total offense, and tight end Kyle Rudolph sounded confident the team could have a similar performance if Keenum were afforded the same kind of protection against the Lions.
“I don’t know that there was much of an edge [of nervousness] going into it [last Sunday],” Rudolph said. “I stood up here last week and said it: If we keep him on his feet and keep him upright, we’re going to make plays, and that’s what happened.”
Bradford, who wasn’t made available to reporters Wednesday, couldn’t be blamed for wanting another shot at the Lions after a pair of frustrating losses last season.
He completed 31 of 40 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting last year on Nov. 6, directing a 79-yard go-ahead touchdown drive in the game’s final minutes, only to see the Lions drive 35 yards in 23 seconds for Matt Prater’s game-tying 58-yard field goal and go 87 yards for the game-winning TD in overtime.
In the Thanksgiving Day matchup between the teams last year, Bradford’s final pass of the day was intercepted by Darius Slay and returned to the Vikings 20, setting up Prater’s game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired.
Keenum, meanwhile, completed 27 of 32 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions last year, running for another score as the Los Angeles Rams built a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter. But the Lions had another one of their seven fourth-quarter comebacks against the Rams and won 31-28. Keenum, too, had his final pass of the game intercepted against the Lions while trying to drive for a game-tying field goal.
Whichever quarterback starts for the Vikings this time will have an opportunity to put the team in at least a tie for the NFC North lead through the first quarter of the 2017 season. And while Bradford tries to return to the field with two days of practice (at most) this week, the Vikings now have an idea of what they’re capable of with Keenum.
Zimmer praised the game plan offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur put together last week, and said it helped the Vikings to know by Thursday last week that Keenum was going to start, rather than playing things out to a game-time decision on Sept. 17 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This time, Keenum begins the week as the Vikings’ de facto starter, and he’s operating with the approach he’s going to play against the Lions.
“Finding out a few days earlier [that I was going to start] last week was good, but the same thing this week: I’m preparing like I’m going to start, and that’s my mind-set,” he said.