QB Bridgewater plays well, but Cassel still Vikes’ starter
EDEN PRAIRIE — With fans chanting his name, rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater set franchise preseason passing records while leading the Minnesota Vikings from behind twice in the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s last-minute 30-28 victory over the Cardinals at TCF Bank Stadium.
And yet the rookie first-round draft pick remains far from overtaking veteran Matt Cassel in their competition for the starting quarterback job.
That’s how consistently well Cassel is performing under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Although coach Mike Zimmer has yet to name the starter for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener, Cassel will be under center barring injury when the Vikings travel to St. Louis looking to put last year’s three-headed quarterback fiasco behind them.
“Matt is doing great,” Zimmer said. “Honestly, he takes charge of the football team. I still like to have them compete and we still have to keep competing.
“I think Matt has a great command of the offense. He is getting better at it all the time, he is making the correct throws and you know what he is taking care of the football.”
A week after completing 5 of 6 passes during a 10-play touchdown drive and then taking a seat, Cassel played the entire first half against the Cardinals. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 153 yards, a 51-yard touchdown to tight end Kyle Rudolph and a 125.3 passer rating. Cassel should have had a second touchdown, but Rudolph dropped a short third-down pass in the end zone after Cassel hit him in the fingertips with a ball lobbed perfectly over the defender’s head.
Cassel also ran three times for 30 yards, escaping pressure up the middle twice for two first downs on one drive — the same drive on which he threw an 18-yard rope to Jerome Simpson on third-and-15.
The quarterback competition seemed over at halftime, and probably is still. But Bridgewater threw some doubt out there by playing the entire second half and bouncing back nicely from a poor preseason opener and some rocky training camp practices. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 177 yards, no turnovers, a 136.9 passer rating and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 2-yard touch pass to Rodney Smith with 11 seconds left.
“Teddy is young and blessed,” said receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. “He’s so poised and can throw the ball in there.”
But when the subject turned to Cassel, Patterson said, “Matt’s our starting quarterback. Nobody can take that from him.”
Bridgewater is still trying. After saying during the week that he was “overthinking” everything that’s been thrown at him and vowing to “just go out and have fun,” Bridgewater set a franchise record for preseason completion percentage. His 80.0 percent broke Daunte Culpepper’s 74.1 set in 2004.
Bridgewater and Cassel also were the first pair of Vikings quarterbacks to surpass a 125.0 passer rating with at least 15 attempts apiece. Bridgewater’s 136.9 rating was only one-tenth of a point from matching the franchise mark set by Bob Lee in 1971.
“The way they’re both playing right now,” said receiver Jarius Wright, “it’s easy to take your pick.”
The fact that Cassel remains the clear-cut choice after how well Bridgewater played under pressure says a lot about a veteran who has reached a quick comfort level with Turner’s offense and the weapons at Turner’s disposal.
And, as Rudolph pointed out after the game, “We have a lot of weapons on offense. But we haven’t even shown the best one (Adrian Peterson) in the preseason.”
Notes: Strong safety Chris Crocker, who was signed on Aug. 4, started in his first preseason action on Saturday. Crocker played under coach Mike Zimmer for six seasons in Cincinnati and one year in Atlanta. Crocker had one tackle on Saturday. ... Running back Joe Banyard, who is competing for a job on the practice squad or a roster spot with another NFL team, had a 56-yard run in the second half on Saturday, the sixth-longest run in Vikings preseason history. ... Wide receiver Rodney Smith caught the game-winning, 2-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone with 11 seconds left. Smith, who played four games late last season, looks the part at 6-5, 220, but he dropped a lot of balls in training camp the past couple of years. ... Running back Adrian Peterson was rested again. He might play in the third preseason game at Kansas City.