Present, future intersect as Bridgewater, Bortles make debuts
Neither player made his starting debut, and neither player was able to drive his team to victory. But third overall pick Blake Bortles and 32nd overall pick Teddy Bridgewater finally got their feet wet in an NFL regular-season game Sunday.
Bridgewater entered the Vikings' eventual 20-9 loss to the Saints in the second quarter after starter Matt Cassel was carted off the field with a broken foot. Cassel finished his day completing 5-of-10 passes for 53 yards, looking harried even when pressure wasn't directly around him. Bridgewater finished his day with 12 completions in 20 attempts for 150 yards, no touchdowns and no picks. He also rushed six times for 27 yards.
As he did in the preseason, and as he did at Louisville, Bridgewater brought a sense of tempo to a Minnesota offense that had become slow and ponderous under Cassel. The incumbent starter threw four interceptions against the Patriots in his last start, and he looked lost against a Rob Ryan-led Saints defense that has been surprisingly porous this season. Bridgewater simply has assets that Cassel does not -- movement ability, quickness of pace, the ability to stand in against the blitz, and a dynamic arm he generally has under control. Zimmer expressed confidence in Cassel after the New England game, but things are clearly different now with Cassel's injury.
"I know the fans are excited about Teddy," Zimmer said in early September, after Bridgewater's exceptional preseason. "I’m excited about Teddy, but we have to do what’s best for the football team at this point in time and what’s best for the future. I’m always trying to think about that, and as you know, coach’s futures aren’t necessarily very long. I’m always trying to think between the now and the future and what’s best for this organization as we go down the road."
With Cassel sidelined, and Bridgewater essentially the starter by default, it would appear that the present and the future have intersected for the Vikings.
The Bortles situation has been more complex. Some in the Jaguars organization have said that the behind-the-scenes thinking about delaying Bortles' entry into the league was first a desire to fix some mechanical flaws that got in his way in college, and then to protect their rookie investment as they try to put a serviceable offensive line together. But as things have progressed, the Jags became more and more impressed with Bortles' development. And with Henne's relative ineffectiveness of late (not all Henne's fault, by the way -- John Elway would struggle with this level of protection), it appears that the thought process is now to let the kid take his lumps and learn as he goes.
In the Jaguars' 44-17 loss to the Colts, Henne was benched at the half, after completing just 4-of-7 passes for a paltry 33 yards. Bortles was off and on through the second half, but got a lot more done with his own mobility and deep arm. He completed 14-of-24 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I don’t think he would have mentally been set up to fail," Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said last week of the possibility that Bortles would flame out too quickly behind an inexperienced line and with a set of targets that are very new to the league. "He doesn’t think like that or act like that or have that kind of mindset. We’re young, we understand we’re young. I don’t know with Blake. I don’t think we’re necessarily setting him up for failure. I think we’re just worried about making sure that we don’t blame Chad for something that maybe Chad wasn’t responsible for.”
After the game, Jags head coach Gus Bradley said that Bortles is now the starter.
“I think it lifted everybody up," Bradley said after the game of Bortles' performance. "I think that sometimes, it’s like having a good punt returner on punt return. When you have that, all of a sudden the blocks are held a little bit longer and plays just happen. I think that’s what Blake did. When he came in there, things fell into place a little bit better and guys were making plays. Sometimes that happens with a guy that goes in there, regardless of the situation. Blake has done that in preseason and it was good to see that today. We’ve just got to tighten up some of the decisions.”
In both cases, it was clear that the younger quarterbacks were better qualified to get the job done. Now, the coaches will play the new narratives through -- whether they like it or not.