Sixty disastrous minutes of football and a throughly deserved 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night sure put that party on hold.
Bridgewater will rightfully shoulder some blame for Minnesota's ugly 0-1 start. His own head coach provided a scathing review of his performance immediately afterward. “I don’t know if it was all the offensive line,” Zimmer said. “Some of it was Teddy. Probably a lot of it was Teddy tonight. Teddy did not play well.”
NESN's Doug Kyed shared Zimmer's view:
But the Vikings still have much bigger problems than their second-year quarterback.
The list should probably start with the Minnesota offensive line, a patched-together group that figures to enter Week 2 with precious few rivals for the title of worst front five in football. Sharing in the guilt was a defense shredded by the run and the very mortal-looking Adrian Peterson.
Add it all up and the Vikings—a sexy pick to make a postseason run in 2015—have some early-season soul-searching to do.
Bridgewater certainly had his share of struggles, especially early on. But he was also given little to no help from his supporting cast.
Playing behind an offensive line missing its two best starters (center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt), Bridgewater took five sacks and was hit on three other snaps. Third-down sacks ended two different drives in the first half, including one where rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings all but handed the 49ers a stop by running into a scrambling Bridgewater deep in the backfield.
Unfortunately, Monday night's unit is the offensive line the Vikings can expect to play with for most of the 2015 season. Sullivan (back) will—at the very least—miss half the season, while Loadholt won't play a down after tearing his Achilles tendon in the preseason.
Offensive lines are able to jell over the course of a full year, but there's only so much a group consisting of Clemmings, Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger and Michael Harris can be reasonably expected to do.
While some struggles up front on offense were all but presumed, few anticipated the 49ers running over Mike Zimmer's defense. The former defensive coordinator has long prided himself on his defenses stopping the run first, but the Vikings had no answer for second-year running back Carlos Hyde on Monday night. San Francisco's second-round pick from a year ago gashed his way to 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Overall, the 49ers rushed for 230 yards on 39 attempts, good for an average of 5.9 yards per running play. The Vikings never gave up more than 178 rushing yards in a single game last season.
The gap in physicality was stunning. San Francisco bullied Minnesota up front, and Hyde seemingly made at least one tackler miss on every attempt.
In turn, the strong running game made life easy on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who threw for just 165 yards.
Maybe most surprising of all was Peterson's no-show.
The Vikings ran Peterson just four times in the first half. Later, both Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata stole snaps as Minnesota went into catch-up mode.
There were some flashes of the old No. 28, including a powering 17-yard catch-and-run in the first half and a spinning nine-yard scamper on the first drive of the second. But given 10 rushes and three catches, Peterson produced just 52 total yards. The Vikings rarely trusted him in passing sets, and there was obvious hesitation whenever Peterson was asked to run from shotgun formations.
That said, it probably wouldn't be unfair to question a play-caller who gave a wound-up, Hall of Fame-caliber running back only four looks over the game's first 30 minutes. It's also not crazy to think the same struggles Bridgewater dealt with up front also hurt Peterson and the running game. And let's remember, Peterson missed all but one game last year and didn't see a single snap this preseason. Rust can be a factor, especially within an offense that was new in 2014.
It's clear many elements conspired against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night.
Quarterbacks generally don't play well against unrelenting pressure. Throw in a quiet debut for Peterson and a run defense leaking yards left and right, and Minnesota has some obvious issues to fix around Bridgewater. The quarterback wasn't the weak link for the Vikings in San Francisco.
Zach Kruse covers the Vikings for Bleacher Report.