MINNEAPOLIS -- There's a very good chance the Minnesota Vikings will head into a playoff game next month with Teddy Bridgewater as their starting quarterback. Their postseason ticket could be secured by the time they take the field on Sunday night against the New York Giants. And just in time for the postseason, the Vikings are beginning to look like they have a quarterback who could do some damage once he gets there.
Bridgewater's 335-yard performance against the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 10, which ended with a fumble in the Vikings' 23-20 loss, was going to matter only if the second-year quarterback followed it with another example of his ability to be more than a passenger in the Vikings' offense. The 23-year-old provided it Sunday, with a full survey of his talents in a 38-17 win over the Bears. He did it on a day when Adrian Peterson was limited because of a sprained left ankle, and he accomplished it in a way that had Peterson as bullish as could be on the Vikings' prospects.
"I think the sky's the limit for us," Peterson said. "If we keep performing with a balanced offense, the sky's the limit. We can go all the way, I think."
In his postgame speech after Sunday's win, coach Mike Zimmer told his team "we can do a lot of damage" in the postseason if the Vikings play the way they did against the Bears and Cardinals. The coach was speaking globally, but his statement probably doesn't become reality without Bridgewater doing what he's done the past two games. Against Arizona and Chicago, Bridgewater threw for 566 yards and five touchdowns, completing 75 percent of his passes with no interceptions.
On Sunday, Bridgewater posted a passer rating of 154.4, hitting seven different receivers and accenting another program of quick passes with a couple of longer strikes. His 34-yard play-action pass to Mike Wallace was the receiver's longest catch of the season (though Wallace still wouldn't call it a downfield shot -- "I'm used to going 80, man," he said). And Bridgewater's 15-yard touchdown throw to Stefon Diggs might have been one of his prettiest passes of the season; the quarterback threaded a pass beyond Tracy Porter into Diggs' arms before a pass-rusher got to him.
Bridgewater went airborne for a rushing touchdown to go with his career-high four passing TDs. And in the process, he became the first Vikings quarterback to throw for four touchdowns and run for one since Fran Tarkenton did it in 1961 against the Bears -- in the first game in Vikings history.
"It probably was [my best game]," he said. "I’ll probably have to look back at the tape and there’s still going to be some adjustments that we could have made, some corrections that we have to make. These next two games now [are going to be] playoff-atmosphere games for us. It was great just coming out here and responding."
There will be better defenses than Chicago's waiting for the Vikings in the playoffs, and how far Minnesota goes will still depend, in all likelihood, on what Peterson is capable of. But it's beginning to look, after a season of occasional discord on offense, like the Vikings know how to be productive enough to be a tough out in January. It's no accident they're rounding into form because of a young quarterback gaining control of what's around him.
"These past two weeks I've seen a different look in his eyes," Peterson said. "I really don't have to say much to him. I say what I normally say to him -- just play fast and play smart -- but I see a look in his eyes and I know he's good and he's ready to go."