The Carolina Panthers have run through a gauntlet of five Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks this season – and have yet to beat one of them.
After becoming another notch on Aaron Rodgers’ championship belt and falling to Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, the Panthers get a break this week against a rookie quarterback.
At least until the fourth quarter, when the Minnesota Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater transforms into “Two-Minute Teddy,” the nickname Vikings wideout and Rock Hill native Cordarrelle Patterson bestowed on him.
Bridgewater, the former Louisville standout drafted with the final pick in the first round, is 3-4 as a starter since Matt Cassel broke his foot Sept. 21 at New Orleans. Bridgewater has led fourth-quarter comebacks in each of his three victories.
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Two of the decisive drives came fairly early in the fourth quarter. But in a 19-13 overtime win at Tampa Bay in Week 8, Bridgewater directed a game-tying, field goal drive that began on the Minnesota 20 with 1 minute, 57 seconds remaining.
After Blair Walsh forced overtime with a field goal as time expired in regulation, the Vikings won on Anthony Barr’s fumble return for a touchdown on the first play in overtime.
Bridgewater says he plays more instinctively with the game on the line.
“During those times in the fourth quarter, when you’re trying to come back in a football game, I believe there’s less thinking for me going on and just more reacting to the game,” Bridgewater said this week in a conference call. “Whenever you’re trying to come back it’s all about completions. Sometimes you may break your rules and your progressions just to find completions, but whatever works. It’s all about having a will and a resiliency.”
Bridgewater has been nothing if not resilient. He’s been sacked 22 times behind an offensive line that has battled injuries and inconsistencies.
But first-year Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says Bridgewater thrives when things look bleak.
“He seems to be getting even better when things are breaking down around him, much more recently than in the past,” Zimmer said. “We have a lot of hope and excitement about what he brings to our team. You wish everything would be a nice, perfectly clean pocket, but that’s not how it is nowadays.”
Bridgewater, 21, the youngest player on the Vikings’ roster, says his rookie season has had its ups and downs.
“It’s been a learning process where there’s learning how to withstand and keep my body healthy through the course of the entire season or learning how to prepare for different opponents each week,” Bridgewater said. “It’s been a fun ride so far. I’ve been able to learn a lot under both Coach Turners, father and son.”
Bridgewater was referring to Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner and his son, Scott, the team’s quarterbacks coach. Both have strong ties to Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who was Norv Turner’s defensive coordinator in San Diego and hired Scott as an assistant in Carolina.
“This is an interesting offense, Rivera said.” “I’ve been around this offense. I’ve been a part of it under coach Turner. So having an opportunity to watch Teddy within it, you can see some of the things he does really well, some things he’s still learning and growing on.
“Teddy’s athleticism takes over in some situations and he extends plays and makes things happen downfield. He’ll tuck it and run. He still has a long ways to go in terms of his development. But I think when you watch him on tape you see exactly what (the Vikings) see.”
Carolina players say Bridgewater’s accuracy has been an issue at times.
Although his completion percentage (60.3) is higher than that of the Panthers’ Cam Newton (58.6), Bridgewater’s 75.7 passer rating ranks ahead of only Jacksonville rookie Blake Bortles (70.8) and the Jets’ Geno Smith (67.4) among quarterbacks with at least 245 pass attempts.
But Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said it would be wrong to dismiss Bridgewater as an overmatched rookie.
“You can see him already looking one way to throw the other way. Looking guys off, trying to move safeties. That’s kind of cool to see for a young guy like that,” Kuechly said. “So I think we have to make sure we’re not looking at him like a rookie that doesn’t know anything. I think he’s got a pretty good knowledge of what’s going on.”
Especially in pressure situations late in the game, when Bridgewater becomes “Two-Minute Teddy.”