MINNEAPOLIS -- There are varying theories in the Minnesota Vikings organization as to why rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been so much more effective at the ends of halves, when his job should be at its most stressful. Bridgewater -- who has blamed himself for overthinking things a number of times in his rookie season -- said last week he's calmer in two-minute drills, when defenses aren't able to change their fronts. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner suggested it might be because Bridgewater is able to throw so many passes and get into a rhythm in those situations, rather than sprinkling his passes between run plays as the game plan dictates.
"I think it’s easier on a quarterback," Turner said last week. "Like I said, you’re not worrying about running the ball. You’re not worried about setting something up, just playing."
The results would certainly suggest the ends of halves have been something of a haven for Bridgewater in a rookie season that's featured plenty of strife. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bridgewater's Total QBR jumps to 54.4 in the final five minutes of a half, compared to 30.5 the rest of the time. In the final three minutes of a half, his QBR is 62.2. In the final two minutes, it's 64.9. And in the last minute of a half, Bridgewater's QBR jumps to 81.9, as he has completed 15 of his 22 throws for 196 yards, directing four field-goal drives and a touchdown drive in his first six NFL games.
It's as though Bridgewater is a distance runner with an indomitable kick, surging toward top speed as he approaches the finish line. He has been able to produce in moments that would rattle most young quarterbacks."What's he's got," center John Sullivan said, "you can't teach."
What Bridgewater has -- and what he did on Sunday -- is the reason the Vikings are 4-5, not 3-6, headed into their bye week. After completing three of his final four throws for 46 yards (including a touchdown strike to Chase Ford) at the end of the first half on Sunday, Bridgewater finished his day connecting on five of his final seven throws for 64 yards, as part of a 12-play, 73-yard march that culminated in a Matt Asiata touchdown with 3:31 left in the Vikings' 29-26 win over the Washington Redskins.
Bridgewater had struggled with his deep throws all day. He hit Greg Jennings for 22 yards and Ford for a 20-yard score at the end of the first half, and connected with Jarius Wright and Ford on back-to-back 21-yard passes in the fourth quarter. In field-goal drives at the end of each half last Sunday in Tampa Bay, including a two-minute drill to tie the game, Bridgewater hit all three of his throws that traveled more than 10 yards in the air.
His issues throwing down the field prevented the Vikings from splitting Sunday's game open, when Bridgewater missed early deep balls to Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, and he'll have to get better in those situations if he wants to be a productive NFL quarterback. But again on Sunday, Bridgewater lifted himself up when it mattered most, and he's done it enough as a rookie that it's beginning to appear as though it's not a fluke.
"I try not to get rattled [at the end of games] because I know I have 10 other guys in the huddle who are depending on me, whose eyes are all on me," Bridgewater said. "In those two-minute situations, I just tell myself, 'Don't try to be perfect; just play football.' I always seem comfortable because I know those 10 other guys in the huddle are going to do their job."