MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings came into the season believing Teddy Bridgewater could take a significant step forward with better pass protection. That hypothesis seemed to be confirmed on two fronts in their preseason opener, a 17-16 victory Friday over the Cincinnati Bengals.
After he was pressured on three plays during the Vikings' first drive -- including one on which he appeared to hold the ball too long -- the quarterback benefited from better protection on his second and final drive of the evening, hitting all five of his passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. The drive included three third-down conversions, including two from third-and-7, and while it came after the Bengals had taken their starters out, the 96-yard march suggested the Vikings can get more out of Bridgewater if they protect him better.
QB depth chart: Bridgewater looked sharp and effective when he had a clean pocket. He finished 6-of-7 for 92 yards and a touchdown. Backup Shaun Hill was also efficient, connecting on 6 of his 7 passes for 52 yards before giving way to rookie Joel Stave, who played most of the second half. Stave looked steadier early in his appearance than he had in all of training camp, but he threw behind Isaac Fruechte on a pass that was intercepted early in the fourth quarter.
Maybe that dude could start: Charles Johnson has returned from a broken rib to push his way back to the top of the Vikings' depth chart at wide receiver, and as impressive as Bridgewater's throw was on his 49-yard touchdown to the receiver, Johnson's move on Chykie Brown made it possible. He drew an illegal-contact penalty with a double move before sprinting away from the corner and hauled in Bridgewater's pass with ease.
Who got hurt? The Vikings appeared to escape the game without any major injuries, but they left a number of starters in Minnesota to get treatment for injuries. Coach Mike Zimmer has declined to give much injury information to reporters during training camp, but the Vikings' broadcast Friday night said linebacker Eric Kendricks is dealing with a hamstring injury. Zimmer had said during the spring that defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd -- who had surgery to remove cartilage in his knee last year -- was still dealing with lingering injury woes, and the Vikings' broadcast said Floyd stayed home with a knee issue.
A surprise player who impressed: Running back C.J. Ham, a Duluth, Minnesota, native who played at Division II Augustana (South Dakota) University, got plenty of work in the second half, carrying 12 times for 35 yards and a touchdown while catching a pass for 9 yards.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Vikings looked ...: Uneven. The Vikings took most of their established defensive players out after the Bengals' first drive, but Cincinnati ran 31 plays during its first two series of the game, while the Vikings went three-and-out against the Bengals' starting defense while dealing with pressure on Bridgewater. The Vikings' second series for their first-team offense came against a group of Bengals backups, but Bridgewater led the 10-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that was capped with his 49-yard touchdown strike to Johnson.
One reason to be concerned: The Vikings' efforts to improve their offensive line have received plenty of attention this offseason, but the first drive for the team's top offensive unit looked an awful lot like something we would've seen last season. Bridgewater avoided a sack on the first play by stiff-arming Geno Atkins, but appeared to hold the ball too long on the next play, not seeing Jerick McKinnon when Atkins got him. And on third down, former Bengals tackle Andre Smith allowed a pressure that forced Bridgewater to fire incomplete. On the Vikings' second drive, McKinnon was nearly tackled for a safety before a 10-yard run, and Matt Kalil was called for a chop block.
Walsh gets back to work: Following his 27-yard miss in the Vikings' wild-card loss to the Seahawks last January, Blair Walsh was going to be the subject of plenty of attention heading into 2016. He's 22-for-24 so far on field goals in training camp, and his first field goal in game action suggested Walsh isn't beginning the preseason in a funk. He ended the first half by drilling a 51-yard field goal, knocking it in off the upright to put the Vikings up 10-7 at halftime.
Alexander's pick is first since high school: Cornerback Mackensie Alexander came down with an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter off a tipped pass, ending a drought that spanned all of his college career. The second-round pick didn't have an interception during his time at Clemson, instead raising his draft stock with his cover skills. That means the interception Alexander hauled in Friday night was his first one since his high school days in Immokalee, Florida.