EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- When they named Matt Cassel their starting quarterback at the beginning of the 2014 season, the Minnesota Vikings had effectively created an environment where little of Teddy Bridgewater's rookie season, beyond a few throws in front of reporters during the open portion of regular-season practices and a handful of snaps at the end of lopsided games, would be visible to the public. Bridgewater would get the chance to develop away from the public eye, at least as long as Cassel was the starter, and the Vikings would be able to manage his development without much outside influence.
That plan, of course, went out the window when Cassel broke his foot in Week 3, and in exchange for more practice time and game action, Bridgewater would put weekly snapshots of his development on display for the public. That's part of the job, of course, and Bridgewater might be better off in the long run because of the early game action, but it means trying to assign proper perspective to what Bridgewater puts on the field as a rookie.
Bridgewater, for example, completed 71.4 percent of his passes against the Carolina Panthers after throwing an interception and struggling with his accuracy early in the Vikings' previous game against the Green Bay Packers. Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner, though, said he thought Bridgewater played better against the Packers than he did against the Panthers, adding Bridgewater would have had a big play in the Green Bay game if not for a protection breakdown.
"I think people see Teddy in the Green Bay game miss a couple of throws early and they start automatically, two throws, and there’s something about accuracy," Turner said. "The throws he missed, I’ve seen him make 100 times in practice. The throw he made to Jarius [Wright] on the deep ball, it was [supposedly] a revelation. I’ve seen him make it from the beginning of training camp all through every day we come out and practice here. He can do all the things he needs to do to be an outstanding quarterback in this league. Like most young guys, there’s going to be some ups and downs, but his lows have not been as low as a lot of young guys I’ve been around and he continues to get better."
Now, at some point, it becomes convenient to mitigate Sunday struggles with what goes on during the closed portion of practice. Players get paid to produce on Sundays, though Turner's point is that he's not judging Bridgewater on a small sample size and he believes the quarterback will become consistent enough to elevate his play in games, too.
I do think, though, it's worth examining Turner's point about Bridgewater's ability to avoid the ugly performances we see from some rookies; Bridgewater has just one three-interception game this season, and he's only had two games with a passer rating below 70 (against Detroit and Buffal0). Since 1995, 82 quarterbacks have at least three games as rookies with passer ratings lower than 70.
There's nothing saying that quarterbacks who wither on the vine as rookies won't eventually make it -- Peyton Manning had as many games as a rookie with sub-70 passer ratings (nine) as Joey Harrington -- but Bridgewater's ability to take care of the ball and keep himself out of bad plays has shown up in recent weeks. In his last five games, he's completed 61.2 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and two interceptions, posting better numbers than Russell Wilson during that stretch.
Franchise quarterbacks ultimately identify themselves by the games in which they play well enough to essentially lift their team to victory, and we haven't seen an Andrew Luck-beats-Aaron Rodgers or Wilson-beats-Tom Brady moment from Bridgewater as a rookie yet. It's possible we won't see that kind of a game from him in 2014, and that doesn't mean it's not coming (especially with how many impairments the Vikings have on offense this year). But I think Turner's point is valid: there's value in the fact that Bridgewater's floor hasn't been as low as we've seen from some rookies. The time will eventually come to see how high his ceiling can get.