Usually when the Minnesota Vikings rip my heart out, I at least have a little warning. For instance, I’ll usually get an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when they’re playing an important playoff game. Especially when their usually reliable kicker lines up for a very makeable field goal late in one of those important playoff games. You know, the usual stuff.
But this one came out of nowhere. As I was waiting for something to compile at work, I decided to hop over to my TweetDeck to see if there was any news about the five remaining players that the Vikings needed to cut before the afternoon was over. It was 2:00 PM on the nose. I remember because an Outlook reminder dinged in my headphones.
And that’s when the tweets started rolling in. “Teddy Bridgewater just went down at practice. Looks serious.”
“Other players immediately taking their helmets off, kneeling, praying.”
“Non-contact injury...practice canceled after only 25 minutes...ambulance is arriving at Winter Park.”
I think I’m gonna puke.
This couldn’t be happening. Not now. Not to Teddy. Not with hopes for the upcoming Vikings season higher than they have been in almost a decade. Not a mere twelve days away from starting what many considered to be a legitimate run at the Super Bowl. And certainly not from simply dropping back for a routine pass in a preseason practice.
I wanted to pull a Taylor Heinicke and kick right through my desk at work. I actually felt a little bad for finding out right away on Twitter. There were tons of Vikings fans still going about their day in wonderfully ignorant bliss while I was stuck fearing the worst.
Unfortunately, the worst was confirmed just hours later. After Mike Zimmer originally explained that Bridgewater sustained a “significant injury” to his left knee, head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman issued a statement explaining that Bridgewater had suffered a torn ACL along with “other structural damage.”
(Actually, judging from the original reports circulating around, perhaps “only” an ACL tear and structural damage wasn’t the worst after all. The injury will definitely end Bridgewater’s year but it doesn’t appear to be much of a threat to end his career.)
Poof. Just like that, Teddy Bridgewater’s season was over before it even started. The future of the franchise that was supposed to lead his team through the inaugural season at US Bank Stadium was now shelved after playing a measly 36 preseason snaps there. We know that football, like life, isn’t fair. But did we really need this kind of reminder?
Of course just like life, football goes on even after our greatest losses. How do the Vikings move on after such a devastating injury to such an indispensable player?
The short answer: it’s going to be really tough. Throughout Training Camp and this preseason, I was asked about who I thought the best option was at backup quarterback, especially with Taylor Heinicke out. My response was always the same joke: it doesn’t matter. If Teddy went down for any significant amount of time this year, we were screwed.
In retrospect, that joke seems a little less humorous after Tuesday afternoon’s events. But sadly it’s still pretty true. Shaun Hill has suddenly been thrust into the starting role and most Vikings fans are justifiably concerned. Hill has looked serviceable at best and washed up at worst throughout the preseason. His passes have been mostly accurate but have lacked any kind of the zip that Bridgewater had seemed to find this year. While Hill’s mobility is better than “Peyton Manning wearing wooden clogs,” it’s still a significant step down from the elusiveness Bridgewater has shown in the pocket. With an offensive line that still has its share of question marks, that could make a big difference toward the overall effectiveness of the offense.
Meanwhile, Joel Stave was undrafted for a reason—a reason he has consistently shown thus far in his NFL career. His last couple of preseason games have been “not as terrible as most of what he showed in Training Camp,” but he’s still not a QB you want anywhere near the field when the games start to count. Brad Sorenson was cut in favor of Stave, so that tells us all we need to know, even if the team is bringing him back to play in Thursday’s preseason finale. Hill is (gulp) likely to be the Week 1 starter, but the Vikings almost have to bring in someone else to either push Hill for the starting gig or be a more feasible backup.
Throughout the day I saw dozens upon dozens of suggestions about quarterbacks the Vikings could bring in now that Bridgewater was out. The list was...not promising. Most of the suggestions came from one of these camps:
- The predictable “bring ‘em back to Minnesota” camp (Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Tarvaris Jackson, Josh Freeman, and of course Brett Favre)
- The “he’s gonna cost waaay too much in salary and/or draft picks” camp (Colin Kaepernick, Philip Rivers, Nick Foles)
- The “ha ha very funny” camp (Johnny Manziel, Michael Vick)
- The “oh my God I’m going to have to talk myself into one of these options in the next couple weeks aren’t I?” camp (Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Brian Hoyer, Charlie Whitehurst, EJ Manuel, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden)
As you can see, the landscape for acquiring quarterbacks in late August/early September is a virtual wasteland. And no matter who the Vikings do or don’t pick up, they’re not going to be ready to run the offense in less than two weeks, which means Hill is the guy at least for the near future.
Does that mean the Vikings are doomed? Not necessarily. They still have one of the best running backs in the league, one of the best defenses in the league, and one of the best head coaches in the league. They’re still going to be a tough out for anyone they play against. Will a lot of these games be lower scoring and feature a much blander offensive attack than we were hoping for? Probably. But I have confidence that the Vikings can still field a very competitive team in 2016.
I’d even say the Vikings still have a legitimate shot at returning to the postseason without Bridgewater at the helm of the offense. But sneaking into the playoffs is now a best-case scenario. The sad truth is that the ceiling of this team came crashing down with Teddy’s knee on Tuesday afternoon. The Vikings could still conceivably get close to the level they achieved in 2015. It’s not like the offense was lighting up the scoreboard like a pinball machine in the first place. But without Bridgewater taking the next step—as it looked like he might this year—I don’t see how they can reach the next level and be a serious contender. The starting quarterback is too important to the ultimate success of a team with Super Bowl aspirations. (And before you start mentioning Trent Dilfer in the comments: this Vikings defense is good, but not 2000 Ravens good.) Unless the Vikings bring in someone that comes out of nowhere and goes all Kurt Warner on the league, this season is going to end like every other Vikings season that came before it: without a title.
And even if you weren’t as high on Bridgewater’s potential to lead the Vikings to greatness before his injury, you can’t deny how highly regarded he is throughout the league just over two years into his career. The universal outpouring of support from players, personnel, and writers all around the NFL tells you a lot about what football folks think of our quarterback. Bridgewater might not have earned the respect and admiration of the average NFL fan yet since he wasn’t putting up gaudy numbers, but he’s already incredibly beloved in the fraternity of the National Football League.
That’s what makes this injury so tough to deal with. Not because it bummed out Vikings fans—hell, we’re used to that by now. But because it happened to such a promising player and genuinely great person. You might be able to fool some people into thinking you’re a nice guy, but you can’t earn the respect of nearly everyone without actually being a nice guy. How Bridgewater conducted himself on and off the field from the day he set foot in Minnesota has been nothing short of exemplary.
And he was playing so damn well this preseason. His pocket presence, his deep ball, his overall leadership—it really looked like everything was coming together heading into his third season. Again, it just isn’t fair.
But you know who isn’t going to worry about what is and isn’t fair? Mike Zimmer. It was incredibly poignant to have him invoke both his late father and wife in the press conference Tuesday to help put things in perspective. “It's more about our feelings for Teddy and him as a person and getting better than it is about anything else,” Zimmer explained. And he’s 100% right. This is the end of Teddy’s season, but it isn’t the end of the world.
“We're not looking for excuses. We're gonna go out and fight like we always do.” We know you will, Zim. And we couldn’t have a better coach to lead that fight than you.
So take heart, Vikings fans. Thinks look pretty bleak right now, but we’ve been through much bleaker. It will just be that much sweeter when Teddy comes back 100% healthy in 2017 and leads his team to a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
(At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself. Because the alternative of drinking myself to sleep every night to forget about this injury doesn’t sound very healthy.)