NFL: For Teddy, a close-up look at how it’s done
By Brian MurphySt. Paul Pioneer Press EDEN PRAIRIE -- Teddy Bridgewater was a kindergarten rug rat when Peyton Manning debuted in the NFL on Sept. 6, 1998 -- two days after a pair of Stanford computer whizzes founded Google. Manning, 39, is older...
By Brian Murphy
St. Paul Pioneer Press
EDEN PRAIRIE - Teddy Bridgewater was a kindergarten rug rat when Peyton Manning debuted in the NFL on Sept. 6, 1998 - two days after a pair of Stanford computer whizzes founded Google.
Manning, 39, is older than Internet pay dirt. Go ahead. Google it.
Bridgewater, 22, is younger than any Vikings starter and the third-youngest player on the 53-man roster. Google that, too.
Perhaps the most intriguing game on the Week 4 schedule is Sunday’s matchup between Minnesota’s incubator baby and Denver’s museum piece. Into thin air and the rowdy cauldron of Sports Authority Field goes Bridgewater, whose 16th start promises to be his most demanding road test yet.
The Broncos boast the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense and are 23-2 at home since Manning signed in 2012.
“We know that those guys play extremely well at home,” Bridgewater said Wednesday. “They’re a tough crowd, tough defense. They’re going to have a lot on their side.”
Old No. 18 might need WD-40 for every joint and a wide-brimmed sunhat for maximum protection; his remade offensive line is playing like a gateway to sudden retirement. The downfield passing prowess that has accounted for Manning’s career 70,446 yards and a record 535 touchdowns has been sporadic of late.
But Manning draws from the deepest reservoir of quarterbacking gumption, experience that still makes him dangerous if no longer explosive. He can identify schemes and exploit coverage gaps to outmaneuver defenses like Bobby Fischer in shoulder pads.
He is winning ugly this year in Denver but still has a chance to start 4-0 for the sixth time in his career. Fran Tarkenton did it four times with the Vikings. No one else is close.
There are too many Manning highlights for Bridgewater to list, but so much for the second-year pro to learn from a five-time MVP and future first-ballot hall of famer he called a “great ambassador for this league.”
“He’s always in command at the line of scrimmage, it’s always like a chess match when you play Peyton Manning,” Bridgewater said. “He’s always making checks, audibles at the line of scrimmage, getting himself in and out of the right plays, protecting himself. He’s a guy who plays extremely fast, and he’s been playing at a high level his entire career.”
Bridgewater is not tormenting defensive coordinators like Manning has for 18 seasons. He has the luxury of managing an offense being chauffeured once again by Adrian Peterson and a punishing defense that has provided cover.
The Vikings’ passing offense ranks 32nd, dead last, averaging 149.7 yards. No wide receiver has caught a touchdown through three games.
Last week, Bridgewater badly underthrew Charles Johnson on a fade route to the left corner of the end zone and was intercepted. His mechanics were creaky and he completed just 13 of 24 passes for 121 yards. Bridgewater’s longest pass completion was 49 yards on that desperation dump-off to Peterson in Week 2 against Detroit.
“We just have to continue to work on starting fast; starting fast as an offense, starting fast as a team,” he said. “I’m in a position right now where we have so many playmakers that if I hand the ball off, as you all saw this past Sunday, that we have an opportunity to score a touchdown.
“If we can complete a screen pass on the outside to a wide receiver, it has a chance to be a big play. I’m in a position where I have a ton of weapons at my disposal. I just have to make the best of it.”
Although 16 years separate Manning and Bridgewater, the generational bookends have a common bond. Both started as rookies on losing teams.
Manning started and suffered through all of Indianapolis’ 3-13 misery in 1998. He and the Colts promptly flipped the script to 13-3 the following season, the first of 12 playoff appearances in 14 years with Indy that included a Super Bowl XLI victory.
Bridgewater went 6-6 as a starter in 2014 during Minnesota’s 7-9 season and is off to a 2-1 start this year.
“I’ve always believed experience is your best teacher,” Manning said Wednesday. “The more you can be in there and play and see how fast guys are and go against different defenses and different corners and file the information away, I know that’s what helped me.”
No need to Google that.