Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will begin his NFL career as the backup to veteran Matt Cassel, but a preseason's worth of work has provided enough evidence to suggest Bridgewater is ready to play in the NFL right now.
Over 15 drives (not including one series that featured a single kneel down), Bridgewater completed 30 of 49 passes for 283 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. His preseason passer rating finished at 111.2. The Vikings offense scored 47 points with him under center.
In no need to rush, the Vikings are playing it safe with a first-round pick at the game's most important position.
"We are very excited with the progress of Teddy," general manager Rick Spielman said during the television broadcast. "We have the fortunate situation of where Matt Cassel has played extremely well in training camp and the preseason. So we can bring Teddy along at our own pace."
The 32nd overall pick in the 2014 draft started Thursday's preseason finale, which ended in a 19-3 win for the Vikings over the Tennessee Titans. Bridgewater played two series in wet conditions at LP Field, completing 4 of 7 passes for 17 yards and a touchdown.
|Teddy Bridgewater's Preseason Stats|
|*Played 15 series|
Minnesota went 80 yards over 12 plays to score a touchdown on the offense's opening drive.
While running backs Jerick McKinnon and Joe Banyard did the heavy lifting, Bridgewater did put on an elusive display in the pocket, cleverly avoiding two sacks against free rushers. He maneuvered through a mess of defenders to scramble for four yards on the first, and then spun away from a sack coming from his blindside on the second.
The rookie showed off his impressive touch to get the Vikings in the end zone. On third down, Bridgewater lofted a well-placed throw to the corner of the end zone for Adam Thielen, who made the catch for the score.
A series later, Bridgewater led the Vikings 51 yards on 15 plays to set up Blair Walsh's 45-yard field goal.
His cadence helped draw the Titans offside on a 3rd-and-1 play. His six-yard completion to Kain Colter converted a 3rd-and-5 opportunity three plays later. On 4th-and-1, Bridgewater snuck up the middle for two yards and a first down. The drive stalled after the Vikings couldn't convert on 3rd-and-long.
Christian Ponder took over the next series with the Vikings up 10-0 and 9:26 left in the second quarter.
Overall, the Vikings called just nine passing plays over Bridgewater's 27 snaps, which was at least partly due to the rain that plagued the better part of the first half. It was still an effective cap to a strong preseason for Minnesota's future at quarterback.
Bridgewater's somewhat shaky debut was followed up by a magical second appearance in which he led the Vikings for a winning score with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Last week, he threw two touchdown passes.
Along the way, Bridgewater showed poise and maturity in the pocket, accuracy to all levels and an ability to protect the football. He was also efficient in the red zone and clutch late in games.
The fact that Bridgewater will start on the bench in Week 1 is testament to how well Cassel played in his three exhibition appearances. He effectively ended the competition during the first half of the second preseason game. Any doubt was erased when Cassel hit Cordarrelle Patterson for a 58-yard touchdown in the first half last week.
Those who believed Bridgewater would win the job couldn't have expected Cassel to play as well as he did this August.
Now, the Vikings can play the veteran quarterback while grooming and preparing the rookie to play when the franchise wants him to, not when they need him to. That's a rare luxury for a team capable of winning this season but one that isn't exactly in win-it-all-now mode.
There remains a relatively high chance that the Vikings turn to Bridgewater at some point this season. And almost certainly, Minnesota will make that decision with a comfort level in his ability to play well at the NFL level right away.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.