Bridgewater dazzles in first start
By Chris TomassonSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Zimmer already has seen enough in four weeks as an NFL head coach that it might seem like four years. "I'm going to write a book at the end of the season ... of all the things that happe...
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - Mike Zimmer already has seen enough in four weeks as an NFL head coach that it might seem like four years.
“I’m going to write a book at the end of the season … of all the things that happened,’’ Zimmer said after his Vikings defeated Atlanta 41-28 Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Zimmer entered the game already having lost five key starters who began the season. The most notable has been star running back Adrian Peterson, on the NFL exempt list following a Sept. 12 indictment in Texas on a felony charge of child abuse. Zimmer also lost a key wide receiver in Jerome Simpson, booted from the team after another run-in with the law.
So it was only appropriate that Minnesota had more drama against Falcons.
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a masterful starting debut in place of Matt Cassel, lost for the season with a broken foot the previous week. But early in the fourth quarter, Bridgewater was carted off the field and eventually was replaced by Christian Ponder.
“It’s crazy,’’ Ponder said. “But injuries happen.’’
As it turned out, Bridgewater should be OK. He has a sprained left ankle and Zimmer was hopeful he will play Thursday night at Green Bay even if Bridgewater wasn’t sure.
Bridgewater completed 19 of 30 passes for 317 yards in outdueling Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 25 of 41 for 298 yards with three touchdowns.
Bridgewater had a 13-yard TD run in the first half that helped the Vikings build a 27-14 advantage in the third quarter. But the Falcons stormed back to take the lead 28-27 entering the fourth quarter, setting the stage for some Bridgewater theatrics.
The rookie drove the Vikings downfield before being hurt on a 1-yard run that set up fourth and goal the Atlanta 1. With Bridgewater limping, the Vikings went for it and got a Matt Asiata touchdown run with 10:50 remaining and then a Bridgewater two-point conversion pass to Rhett Ellison for a 35-28 lead.
“I wanted to score,’’ Zimmer said about going for it rather than kicking a short field goal. “We were moving the ball pretty well.’’
When Minnesota got the ball back, Ponder was at the helm. He led the Vikings to a 55-yard field goal by Blair Walsh with 3:38 remaining that gave them a 38-28 lead and put the game on ice.
Now, the Vikings will wait to see if the ice this week on Bridgewater’s ankle is enough to get him ready for Thursday. He was scheduled to have an MRI on Sunday night, although it was believed to be precautionary.
“I assume he’s going to play,’’ Zimmer said. “Teddy’s pretty dang tough.’’
Bridgewater said was feeling OK after the game and “wasn’t worried’’ when he went down with a “non-contact injury.’’ But he stopped short of saying he definitely will play against the Packers.
Fans sure are hoping he will. Many in the sellout crowd of 52,173 chanted “Teddy, Teddy, Teddy’’ throughout the game.
“It’s great when you have fans on your back supporting you,’’ Bridgewater said. “I thank the guys, the women and the children … (Throwing for 300 yards) sets the bar pretty high. But for me, I just try to continue to build off the momentum I had.’’
Bridgewater wasted little time getting momentum on his side. On Minnesota’s first possession, he completed a 52-yard pass to Jarius Wright that led to a 3-yard touchdown run by Asiata for a 7-0 lead.
In relief of Peterson, Asiata had three rushing touchdowns for the second time in the past seven regular-season games. He also had three last December against another bunch of birds, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Asiata rushed for 78 yards on 20 carries and wasn’t even Minnesota’s top ground gainer. That distinction went to rookie Jerick McKinnon, who ran 18 times for 135 yards, including a 55-yard scamper in the second quarter on his first carry of the day.
In the previous two games without Peterson, the Vikings gained a meager 113 yards on the ground with yards-per-carry average of 2.8. Sunday, they carried 44 times for 241 yards for a whopping 5.5 average.
“It was really important,’’ Asiata said. “We had to punch them in the mouth from the get-go. That’s what we did and we came out with the win.’’
The Vikings rolled up 558 yards of total offense. This despite also being without guard Brandon Fusco, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the previous week, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, out until at least December following groin surgery.
Out on defense was linebacker Chad Greenway, who has a broken hand and a broken wrist, ending a streak of 115 straight games played.
“We were able to shake that monkey off our back,’’ said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. “It’s a big win. We just came out and we circled the wagons and got the win.’’
At least there ended up being a lot more ups than downs on this day for Zimmer to include in his book.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.