What now for Bridgewater and the Vikings?
If all goes according to plan, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will return to the Vikings' active roster Wednesday (possibly to Sam Bradford’s detriment). It's the latest plot point in Bridgewater’s inspiring story, the culmination of more than 400 days of recovery since the 24-year-old dislocated his knee in a practice near the end of the 2016 preseason. But the reason the roster move leads this newsletter is because of the questions surrounding what happens next.
Every indication out of Minnesota is that Case Keenum will start Sunday in Washington. He's led the Vikings to four straight wins so coach Mike Zimmer might as well throw him out there again as Bridgewater reacquaints himself with the position. But then what? Keenum may have the team at 6-2, atop the NFC North by two games, but there’s a reason he’s bounced between cities over the past five years while Bridgewater was a first-round pick. Keenum is averaging 6.9 yards per attempt this year, just shy of his career high yet still below the average Bridgewater posted in both 2014 and 2015. Plus, the offense now is more capable than it was back then. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are the only teammates ranked in the top 10 at wide receiver by Pro Football Focus, and while Adrian Peterson may be gone, the Minnesota offensive line has improved significantly. On top of that, teammates are saying that Bridgewater himself appears stronger than he was two years ago. When up to speed, he should start.
If there's one thing Keenum has going for him, it's familiarity with awkward situations. Earlier this year, he was playing every week while the team hoped to get Bradford back. Last season in Los Angeles, Keenum knew he was just keeping the spot warm for first overall pick Jared Goff. So how long can Keenum hold off the newest contender? Well, the Vikings are headed into the toughest stretch of their season. Once they get back from Washington, they'll face the Rams, Lions, Falcons, and Panthers. If Minnesota falters through that gauntlet without elevating Bridgewater, the next chapter in his uplifting saga could involve fan uproar.
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1. Jimmy Garoppolo has gone from backing up Tom Brady to holding C.J. Beathard’s clipboard. Garoppolo will be on the 49ers sideline once again Sunday as he continues learning the offense. But even with the rookie Beathard starting, 0-9 San Francisco is favored over the Giants. One more bit of 49ers news: the team was far from dismayed with running back Carlos Hyde for getting ejected after a fourth-quarter scrap Sunday. “I really loved how he went and got our quarterback’s back,” coach Kyle Shanahan said.
2. The Texans added another quarterback: journeyman backup Josh Johnson. He hasn't thrown a pass in a regular season game since 2011.
3. Following a blistering start, Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt has not scored in six weeks and has rushed for more than 50 yards just once in the past four games. Rookie wall or opponent adjustment? Heading into the bye, Kansas City coaches actually say it's the line that needs to rediscover its form.
4. While a young runner fades heading into his bye, an old one might be hitting his stride. Marshawn Lynch's second half Sunday night was his best of the year (49 yards), a sign that coach, offensive line, and running back are getting on the same page after a tumultuous first half to the season.
5. Bears rookie gadget Tarik Cohen is fun on Sundays. As Dan Pompei finds, he's actually fun all the time. On exerting more than anyone else during practice (according to the Bears' GPS system), Cohen said, “I just want to have fun. Sitting still isn't too much fun.” On the topic of his 10-inch hands, the second-largest among running backs at the combine on the smallest prospect in Indianapolis, he said, “These hands are good for catching the ball. They also are good for smacking the fire out of people when they talk crazy to me.” There's plenty more where all that came from.
6. Shockingly, Pennsylvania native and Steelers legend Bill Cowher now considers himself a New Yorker. “You never know what you’re going to run into,” Cowher said of the city—like maybe a Super Bowl champion coach. But don't get too excited, Giants fans. It is “highly unlikely” he ever coaches again.
7. Back in Pittsburgh, Martavis Bryant has returned to the mix and Ben Roethlisberger is working to keep JuJu Smith-Schuster grounded.
8. The Colts snapped their losing streak Sunday, largely thanks to a gritty effort from left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who spent the week unsure if he'd be able to play with a bad knee.
9. A 3-1 record in Denver has turned into 3-5 as Vance Joseph's honeymoon period with the Broncos has faded deep into the distance. But he's sticking with Brock Osweiler, for now at least.
10. After finding a signature win in Seattle, what’s next for Washington?
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The Eagles’ and Broncos’ 2017 seasons, summarized in one Instagram clip.
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