Saints Teddy Bridgewater's Journey is More Than an Inspirational Story
The date was August 30th, 2016. Twenty-three-year-old Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings was entering his third season as an NFL quarterback. Bridgewater was coming off his first full season as a starter the year before, when he led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and an NFC North championship. During a standard passing drill in training camp practice that day, Bridgewater stepped awkwardly and went down untouched, changing both his and his team’s future in an instant. The young signal caller tore the ACL and multiple ligaments in his left knee, along with dislocating the joint. The injury was so serious that Minnesota’s training staff called 911 and had him immediately transported to the nearest trauma center.
Luckily, Bridgewater did not sever any arteries which could have resulted in a partial amputation, as some initially feared. He would still undergo nearly five hours of reconstructive surgery, putting his football career in doubt. Undaunted, Bridgewater began a grueling 19 month rehab. His injury and arduous rehab would keep him out of game action for nearly two full seasons. Bridgewater would finally play a game on December 17th, 2017, playing nine snaps and throwing two passes in mop up duty.
Teddy Bridgewater would leave Minnesota after 2017, signing as a free agent with the New York Jets, who would also use a high draft pick on Sam Darnold to be their starter at the position. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton had monitored Bridgewater’s play during the preseason and determined that he was sufficiently recovered from his gruesome knee injury. On August 29, 2018, two years removed from his career-threatening injury, the Saints traded a third-round draft pick to the Jets to get Bridgewater as a back up to quarterback Drew Brees.
Bridgewater impressed the Saints coaching staff with how quickly he grasped Payton’s complex offense. He would see mop-up action in a few games in 2018 and start his first contest since January 10, 2016 when he got the nod in the team’s meaningless season finale. Bridgewater would complete 14 of 23 passes on the year for 123 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He would again become a free agent after the year, but bypassed other opportunities to return to New Orleans, who awarded him a one-year contract for $7.25 million dollars to again back up Brees.
The unimaginable happened for Saints fans just two games into this year when Brees was injured in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The future Hall of Famer would miss several games because of surgery on his right thumb, causing some to believe that a season that began with Super Bowl aspirations would now be derailed. In stepped Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, amid debates across the country to how many games the Saints could win with him behind center.
Bridgewater’s first start would be a road game against the Seattle Seahawks, one of the league’s toughest venues. He threw two touchdown passes and was efficient, if not spectacular, while getting scores from his defense and special teams in a 33-27 New Orleans victory. Bridgewater would get more comfortable and confident with each game. He would start five games while Brees was out and lead the Saints to wins in all of them to the surprise of nearly everyone. He completed 69.7% of his throws in those five games for 1,205 yards and 9 touchdown passes against just 2 interceptions while throwing for over 300 yards once.
The Saints enjoyed solid special teams play and spectacular defense in the five games without Brees, but would also get solid quarterback play to compliment their offensive talent. Bridgewater was clutch when his team needed it most and used the surrounding playmakers in the New Orleans offense. He was at his best during the Saints first drive of the second half of each contest, when he led his team to scores in 4 of 5 of the games he started, including three touchdown drives. The Saints converted 62% of their 3rd down chances during the second half of Bridgewater’s last four games, allowing the offense to maintain control of the ball for key stretches.
Drew Brees was back as the Saints starting quarterback in last week’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Many expected New Orleans would be in the middle of a playoff chase upon his return. Instead, thanks to Bridgewater’s play along with a defense performing at an elite level, several key offensive contributions, and good special teams, the Saints are 7-1 and still considered a Super Bowl favorite. A free agent after the year, he has undoubtedly earned a starting job as an NFL quarterback with his performance. Teddy Bridgewater’s return to football is an inspirational story and highlights his remarkable determination as a person. It has been his play on the field, however, that has allowed the New Orleans Saints to maintain their championship aspirations.