Over the next two weeks, we will take a position-by-position look at where the Vikings stand heading into the offseason after their 7-9 season in 2014. Today, we start with the quarterbacks.
The Vikings entered training camp last July with three quarterbacks and little certainty as to which one would start the season behind center. The team two months prior had selected Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd pick in the draft, and inconsistent veterans Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder returned. Head coach Mike Zimmer declared that it would be a three-way camp competition, but if Ponder was actually in the race, he quickly dropped out of contention.
Cassel, who arrived in Mankato atop the depth chart, kept hold of the starting gig with a sharp camp and preseason. But after an efficient performance in Week 1 and a four-interception afternoon in Week 2, Cassel was lost for the season with a fractured foot in Week 3. The Bridgewater era began.
As is expected of rookies, Bridgewater was up and down early, the lowest point probably being the five total interceptions he threw in back-to-back losses in October. But Bridgewater showed steady improvement and threw at least one touchdown pass in his final 10 games to finish his first season as a pro with 2,919 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and an impressive 6-6 record as a starter.
Needless to say, there will be no quarterback competition this summer. The job is Bridgewater’s.
ONE REASON FOR OPTIMISM: By playing with poise in spite of a subpar supporting cast without suspended running back Adrian Peterson, Bridgewater gave hope that he could be the long-term solution at quarterback. And the fact that offensive coordinator Norv Turner plans to stick around for a couple more seasons bodes well for Bridgewater as he strives to blossom as a young passer.
ONE REASON FOR CONCERN: Bridgewater threw 12 interceptions in his 12 starts, including three games with multiple interceptions. To be fair, at least a couple of those interceptions ricocheted off a receiver first. But Bridgewater will be looking to cut down on the turnovers in his second season.
GRADES WITH A GRAIN OF SALT: Since the Vikings (understandably) won’t make their player grades public, we turn to Pro Football Focus, whom some players and coaches have been critical of. For context with these grades, a grade of 0.0 is considered average. Positive grades are good. Negative grades are not. Bridgewater led the way with a plus-4.5, which ranked 15th among all NFL quarterbacks. Cassel graded as a negative-7.5 in three starts. Ponder was a negative-4.4 in one.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT: 64.4 — completion percentage for Bridgewater, third all-time among rookies. Only Ben Roethlisberger and Robert Griffin III completed a higher percentage as rookies.
POTENTIAL DEPARTURES: Ponder is a goner after four seasons in Minnesota. He never lived up to his draft position, but it seems likely that another NFL team will believe it can coax better play out of him. Cassel is expected to be back as the backup despite a $4.75 million cap number in 2015.
OFFSEASON LEVEL OF NEED: Low. The Vikings look to be in pretty good shape with Bridgewater and Cassel, an above-average backup option. But they may look to add a third QB to replace Ponder given Turner’s stated preference of carrying three. That passer would likely profile as a developmental type, whether he is a late pick, an undrafted free agent or an inexperienced young veteran like Pat Devlin, who will be around this spring after finishing 2014 on the practice squad.
Packers fans and Vikings fans will never agree on much (at least football-wise … in real life, we agree on as many things as the general population agrees upon). They’re allied on a distaste for the Bears and Cowboys. They like a beer at the game. And that’s about it.
But we can’t help but think the two groups are growing closer, at least in understanding, as Green Bay catches up to Minnesota in gut-punching playoff losses. Yes, yes, we know, Packers fans: Green Bay has won four Super Bowls, including after the 2010 season. That’s a nice pillow to land on. But still, the past dozen years have vaulted the Packers toward the star-crossed Vikings when it comes to misery. Consider:
2002 season: The Packers and Brett Favre, previously seemingly invincible in home playoff games, are routed 27-7 by the Falcons at Lambeau Field.
2003 season: Packers lose to Philadelphia in overtime of the playoffs, which the Eagles forced on the miracle 4th-and-26 completion near the end of regulation from Donovan McNabb to Freddie Mitchell.
2004 season: Packers lose a home playoff game to the Vikings and mooning Randy Moss.
2007 season: In Brett Favre’s final game with the Packers, they lose in overtime, at home, in the NFC title game to the Giants.
2009 season: Overtime loss at Arizona, a 51-45 shootout. The winning play is a strip sack fumble of Aaron Rodgers returned for a touchdown, a play on which a penalty could have been called for grabbing Rodgers’ facemask.
2011 season: A 15-1 regular season is washed away with a home playoff loss to the Giants.
2012 season: Colin Kaepernick runs wild in a 45-31 49ers playoff win.
2013 season: The Packers again lose a home playoff game, 23-20 to San Francisco. The 49ers’ game-winning field goal comes within an eyelash of being blocked.
2014 season: We all saw what happened Sunday in Seattle, but this was probably the biggest punch of all. Up 19-7 and in control, the Packers lost the lead, rallied to tie, then lost in overtime — almost like losing twice.
Green Bay fans: We count a lot of rough endings, including four of the past 12 seasons ending with OT playoff losses. If you need further advice or coping mechanisms for all this, we have you covered.