MINNEAPOLIS -- Teddy Bridgewater's first NFC North game was supposed to come against the Green Bay Packers in prime time at Lambeau Field four days after he threw for 317 yards in his first NFL start. The fact the rookie missed that game with a sprained ankle, evidently, was still on his mind on Sunday, when a quarterback usually lauded for his composure came out firing rockets.
"I wasn't able to play the first time we played the Green Bay Packers, and I was just trying to get a feel for this rivalry," Bridgewater said. "I think I was just very excited to be able to play the Green Bay Packers for the first time. I just have to settle down and remain poised and let the game come to me."
On a day when their defense held the league's hottest offense to 24 points and their cornerbacks won plaudits from Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings will have to wonder if they could have secured their first NFC North win of the year had Bridgewater been more accurate. In the first two quarters, he overshot Charles Johnson deep, threw too high for Jarius Wright, had an interception overturned by a holding penalty, fired a 9-yard pass that required a leaping grab from Greg Jennings, floated an interception that Micah Hyde said "felt like it was in the air for five seconds" and threw another high pass that Tramon Williams nearly intercepted. In the third, he missed Johnson on a deep throw after Sam Shields fell down, costing the Vikings a chance at a touchdown before Blair Walsh's field goal.
Bridgewater settled down in the fourth quarter, playing his best as he usually does when the Vikings tried to rally late. He hit eight of his 10 throws in the fourth quarter, for 69 yards and a touchdown, as the Vikings pulled within three of Green Bay. But the efficient, assured quarterbacking Bridgewater did at the end of the game made it easy to wonder why he couldn't play that way earlier.
"I didn't think he was as accurate as he normally is early in the ballgame," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He had a couple of high throws, a couple of missed throws. He seemed to settle down in the second half -- now, he got hit a bunch of times; we didn't protect him nearly well enough. He continued to keep drives alive in the second half, so those were all good things. We have to start, he needs to play better in the first half."
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bridgewater was off target on seven of his 37 passes on Sunday, which was tied for the third-most off-target throws he has had in a game this season. He generally hasn't been among the league's wildest quarterbacks this season -- he's 15th in the league in terms of the most off-target throws per game -- but what sticks out is how many of his struggles have come early in games. On Sunday, six of his seven off-target throws came in the first half, and for the season, Bridgewater has the league's fifth-lowest QBR through two quarters.
"One of the things I told him is, 'You can't win a game by yourself; you can't lose a game by yourself,'" Jennings said. "When you have a guy that you know is trying to do everything the right way, you're willing to be patient. There's mistakes that I will make. There's mistakes he's going to make. But at the end of the day, I can't focus on the mistakes. We have to learn how to be together, and make sure we're doing things the right way to give our team a chance to win."
Bridgewater has criticized himself for overthinking things on a number of occasions this season, and his rough start to Sunday's game seemed to be because he was too fired up. It's another thing he's working through as a rookie quarterback, but on Sunday, it cost him a chance for a better debut against the Vikings' biggest rival.