There just wasn’t much not to like about Minnesota heading into this season. Coming off an 11-5 season in which they took the division from Green Bay, the Vikings progress was looking up. The team has an elite back in Adrian Peterson that has shown no signs of actually slowing down, an elite defense, and an improving young quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater that was ready to take the next step.
Even as the preseason rattled on, Bridgewater has looked like everything head coach Mike Zimmer has been raving about the quarterback since the start of training camp. “He’s been incredibly accurate and poised,” Zimmer said back in July. “He’s honestly a new quarterback; he’s improved at almost every level.”
Bridgewater has lived up to that hype, completing 18 of 23 on passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He’s looked pristine and sharp, and backed up the expectation that the Vikings were a team ready to take the next step and move into the postseason as a serious contender.
Teddy Bridgewater has a 64.9 percent career completion percentage — the highest of any QB in NFL history under the age of 25, per Elias.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 31, 2016
Those expectations came to a grinding halt this week, as Bridgewater and the offense practiced some reps early in practice on Tuesday. Bridgewater took a drop back, and drove his foot into the ground, and from there the hopes of the offense unraveled. The QB dropped to the ground in pain, clenching his knee. Immediately, offensive leaders like Adrian Peterson and other players huddled around Bridgewater, shouting expletives and praying.
Ambulances arrived on the scene quickly, as trainers rushed to inflate a cast around the leg and provide support. As Bridgewater rushed was rushed to the hospital, immediate reactions from coach Mike Zimmer solemnly stated that “Things don’t look good.”
His fear was supported by the news that broke early yesterday: Bridgewater had torn his ACL completely, sidelining him for the entire season. And just like that, the wind was swept from the sails of the Minnesota Vikings, and a team full of youth and promise suddenly took a turn to a team struggling to find an identity.
The injury to #Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater is serious. But considering the career-threatening possibilities, he was very fortunate.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 31, 2016
All is not lost for Minnesota. On one hand, the Vikings have a competent backup in veteran Shaun Hill. Hill has some experience stepping in for injured starters, and has played well in the preseason. He’s a semi-mobile passer that has a solid arm in the way Bridgewater does.
The Vikings offense doesn’t demand the quarterback to be a game changer, as the offense still runs through the powerful Adrian Peterson. Hill should be an adequate player as a game manager, one that can get Peterson the ball and not turn the ball over. Bridgewater showed signs of this in the preseason, rarely attempting passes over fifteen yards. With Hill, they have a quarterback that can distribute the ball and take care of it enough to balance the running game.
This isn’t the first time Shaun Hill has had to step in for an injured QB. https://t.co/WDDArmfTYV
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 1, 2016
The defense should also keep Minnesota in most games, as they possess one of the best in the game. The Vikings rode that defense a lot last season, and were able to out-talent most offenses, and balanced on a running game, controlled the ball and the clock. Couple this with a weak division, and the Vikings have a manageable disaster here.
On a less rosy note, Hill is nowhere near the playmaker that Bridgewater showed flashes of. He’s not going to be able to be counted on to win games. And for a team that absolutely fell apart last year when the running game wasn’t working, that’s trouble for the Vikings. The injury to Bridgewater allows opponents to stack the box even more than they were already going to, and force the rushed Hill to beat them on his own.
Bridgewater’s injury doesn’t spell doom to the Vikings season. In fact, I’d still peg them as a playoff team. But the road just got much, much tougher without a reliable passing game. The Vikings are reportedly looking for another answer at quarterback, but the timing could not be worse for an injury like this.
It’s anyone’s guess what happens with the Vikings. But they better figure it out fast.