As Bridgewater takes over, several starters hurt

Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata (44) carries the ball past New Orleans Saints defensive back A.J. Davis (20) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)
Rogelio Solis

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings have begun the week in ambiguous mode, stung by injuries and disappointed by a second straight defeat yet buoyed by the earlier-than-anticipated arrival of their rookie quarterback.

The offense around Teddy Bridgewater has been depleted of several starters, but maybe the kid will be all right. Like any debuting first-round draft pick, Bridgewater brings not a boost of optimism for the team as well as an undetermined ceiling for his performance.

''A lot of poise for a rookie. I mean, an incredible amount, and he can throw the ball around the field,'' center John Sullivan said. ''So we're excited.''

Sullivan went even further in response to a question about the team's confidence in Bridgewater.

''We should win every single game we play with him at quarterback,'' he said.

Well, that would've been a tall task, obviously, even at full strength. Bridgewater's first NFL start this Sunday against Atlanta, with Matt Cassel sidelined for a while because of broken bones in his left foot, will have the benefit of being at home. He will likely, however, be without the No. 1 running back, No. 1 tight end, No. 3 wide receiver and starting right guard the Vikings expected to have at this point in the season.

''You never plan on having this many injuries as you have, but we're not going to make excuses about it,'' coach Mike Zimmer said Monday.

Running back Adrian Peterson remains out indefinitely, of course, with the charge of child abuse pending against him in Texas. This was going to be the week that wide receiver Jerome Simpson returned from a three-game suspension, but the Vikings released him Thursday after news broke of more off-the-field trouble.

Then Sunday in New Orleans, the Vikings lost more than just by the 20-9 margin. Five key players had to leave the game because they were hurt:

- Tight end Kyle Rudolph aggravated an abdominal injury that had been bothering him since early in the preseason. Rudolph was scheduled to fly to Philadelphia on Tuesday morning to have surgery by Dr. William Meyers, a noted specialist in dealing with sports hernias. Rudolph is expected to miss about six weeks but wanted to have surgery as soon as possible to try and return in time for the second half of the season.

Rudolph signed a five-year contract extension in July and was poised for a breakout season under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

''I've always tried to demonstrate that these times can define you as a person. This latest setback will be no different,'' Rudolph tweeted. ''I will prove that my determination and dedication to this team, city, and most importantly, our fans, will carry me back to where I belong.''

- Cassel will see a specialist Thursday before a timetable for his recovery is determined. Zimmer said signing another quarterback, and tight end, was under consideration.

- Right guard Brandon Fusco hurt his pectoral muscle, in the chest area, and was slated for a second medical opinion.

- Nickel cornerback Josh Robinson hurt his right hamstring, the muscle that limited him for much of training camp.

- Linebacker Chad Greenway, who also played against the Saints with a broken left hand, aggravated a rib injury he was already dealing with last week. Asked whether Greenway could play through that against the Falcons, Zimmer said, ''Not like he did this week.''

Elaborating, Zimmer second-guessed himself for allowing Greenway to play after being in too much pain to practice during the week.

''He had a hard game yesterday. It's my fault,'' Zimmer said.

The defense played well for much of the afternoon but had a rough start and a costly stretch late in the game with the Saints clinging to a 13-9 lead. Captain Munnerlyn's wrestling-style takedown of Drew Brees for third-down sack drew an unnecessary roughness penalty, and the Saints converted two more third-and-long situations on their way to the insurance touchdown.

''It was a bad call. The referee, he never blew the whistle,'' Munnerlyn said, vowing to appeal a fine. He added: ''I feel like it changed the game for my team. So I've just got to learn from it and try not to make that mistake again.''

On offense, the Peterson-less ground game has been punchless. Protection by the offensive line, particularly left tackle Matt Kalil, has become an increasing concern.

''He allows one play to affect the second play sometimes,'' Zimmer said, adding: ''It's like a golfer when he misses a putt and then he goes up on the tee box and has a bad drive. We're all going to have bad plays. He has enough athletic ability and physical skills and mental toughness. He has all those things. Now, he can't compound it by making another mistake.''

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AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski, in Minneapolis, contributed to this report.

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