The Vikings prepared themselves for what might happen in the final seconds of Thursday night’s 23-20 loss to Arizona.

They studied how long specific plays could take and where the ball would need to be directed, but they couldn’t fully account for how an opposing team might respond. And the Cardinals strip-sacked Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on third-and-10 from the Arizona 31 and recovered the ball with 5 seconds remaining.

Had the Vikings, out of timeouts, attempted a tying field goal on the play, which started with 13 seconds remaining, it would have been a 48-yard attempt for Blair Walsh. Instead, they elected to try to gain more yardage, but Dwight Freeney beat left tackle Matt Kalil with a spin move and got to Bridgewater as he prepared to throw the ball away.

“It’s a play we practice every week for a situation like that,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Friday at Winter Park. “They had more people rushing in that particular play than normally when that happens, so that was a little bit different and then we got beat [on the line]. In retrospect, probably could have called something else or we could have kicked the field goal.

“I thought about kicking the field goal with the 13 seconds left on the clock. If we missed the field goal, I’m wrong, we should have got closer. I did the best that I thought we could at that particular time. We’ve studied that situation many times; to clock the ball inbounds it’s approximately 12-14 seconds, so we were right on the verge.”

Improved offense

Bridgewater threw for a career-high 335 yards Thursday, which came on the heels of Sunday’s ugly 38-7 loss to Seattle in which the Vikings gained only 125 total yards.

Bridgewater was sacked three times Thursday, but Zimmer thought the line play improved.

“Really, the whole team played a lot better and maybe Seattle just did that to us,” Zimmer said. “And the offensive line did a good job. They protected much better.”

Adrian Peterson, upset after getting only eight carries for 18 yards against Seattle, had 23 carries (for 69 yards) and was used more on passing downs.

“Adrian ran with a purpose,” Zimmer said. “When he’s in there, he’s a threat. One of the first things you do before you make the calls are, ‘Who is the back?’ so you can determine run-pass kind of things. So the more he’s in there, the more it helps your passing game as well.”

Injury update

Zimmer received encouraging news about the status of four defensive starters — safety Harrison Smith (hamstring/knee), linebacker Anthony Barr (groin/hand), safety Andrew Sendejo (knee) and nose tackle Linval Joseph (foot) — who missed Thursday’s game.

“They’re all moving in the right direction,” Zimmer said. “These guys want to play bad. That’s one thing about this football team, they want to fight for each other. These guys want to get back in there and fight as soon as they can.

“Sendejo would probably be the quickest back. But the others, talking about Barr, Joseph and Harrison, they’re all kind of right in the same vicinity.”

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes briefly left the game because of an injured wrist, but Zimmer said Rhodes was fine.

Reserves check in

Veteran cornerback Terence Newman started at safety, filling in for Smith and Sendejo on Thursday, and rookie cornerback Trae Waynes made his first NFL start, sliding into Newman’s role.

“Terence understands the calls and the checks pretty good. I thought he did OK,” Zimmer said.

As for Waynes: “I thought he competed well. The play that he broke up at the end of the ballgame was one that they completed on him earlier in the game. That was a big play for him to go in there because Larry Fitzgerald is a great catch guy and for him to get that ball out was huge. So he did some good things.”