TAMPA, Fla. -- As he returned to his home state on Saturday preparing to play in front of friends and family who had traveled from South Florida to watch him face the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, Teddy Bridgewater was nearly a month removed from his first -- and to that point only -- win as a NFL starting quarterback.
The four games since that day -- a raucous 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in which Bridgewater threw for 316 yards -- had served as an indoctrination into all ways his life would be harder in the NFL than it was at Louisville.
Bridgewater missed his prime-time debut at Lambeau Field because of a sprained ankle, got sacked 13 times in back-to-back losses, threw five interceptions in those games and watched the Vikings give up a game-winning touchdown in Buffalo after his offense fell short of a decisive touchdown.So Bridgewater told the supporters who came to the game that he'd have to wait until afterward to see them, following an edict handed down by Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.
Bridgewater feathered a throw behind two defenders to Greg Jennings in the back of the end zone, heeding the receiver's advice to feel, not see, targets getting open. He threw a 15-yard pass to Cordarrelle Patterson on the first play of the game, beginning a day in which he'd look for the receiver 12 times and hit him on half of those throws, and he coolly marched the Vikings 61 yards in the game's final two minutes, setting up a game-tying field goal with a 12-yard pass to Chase Ford on his final throw.
Bridgewater came out on the other side with his second NFL victory, and an effort that showed some steps forward, albeit against the worst defense in the NFL. He completed 24 of 42 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown, directing the Vikings to a game-tying score that set up Anthony Barr's decisive fumble return for a TD in overtime. In the process, Bridgewater benefited from a supporting cast that did more to help him out than he has had in weeks; he was pressured on only 23.3 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and his receivers had more success getting open than they have in recent weeks.
Despite some stretches of inaccuracy in the first half, Bridgewater finished with his second-best QBR of the season (71.7), and he left Florida with his second win.
"I think his composure was very good," Zimmer said. "He took some shots down the field, which we have to do. ... I told Cordarrelle this was his best week of practice. The throw to Jennings was a great catch and an unbelievable throw; he had a guy in his face. Those are the kind of throws you can make, and you've just got to keep the pocket clean."
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bridgewater hit 6 of 13 throws that traveled at least 10 yards, for 101 yards and one touchdown. He had gone 5-for-17 on downfield throws, including three interceptions, and while his effort on Sunday included a bad miss on an underthrown deep ball to Charles Johnson that could have been a touchdown if Bridgewater had driven the ball farther downfield, he benefited from better protection and connected on more of the intermediate throws that make Norv Turner's offense work.
]It was, as a whole, an uneven performance from the rookie. But as he emerged with fewer bruises, better chemistry with his receivers and a successful comeback, Bridgewater had a day he could build on.
"We've been making improvements each and every week," Bridgewater said. "It was a tough game last week to lose the way we did. We fought hard, we made our improvements and we were able to finish today."