The Book on One of the Vikings’ Biggest “What If” Stories Has Come to a Close

Former Vikings QB
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Back in the spring of 2014, the Minnesota Vikings were searching for answers.

They were four seasons removed from their NFC Championship Game appearance during the 2009 season and had lost 10+ games in three of those four campaigns. More specifically, the Vikings were searching for answers at the quarterback position.

Brett Favre, the architect of that ’09 run, was out of the picture at this point after struggling through the 2010 season at age-41 and finally officially calling it quits. There was that weird Donovan McNabb stint during 2011. And finally, Christian Ponder, Minnesota’s first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, had hardly lived up to the expectations of a post-Favre era.

As a result, the quarterback position was once again on the menu in the 2014 NFL Draft. After Minnesota opted to select LB Anthony Barr with the ninth overall selection, the Vikings saw an opportunity to pounce on a QB prospect who was once a shoo-in to go first overall. So, Minnesota swung a trade with the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks to grab the 32nd overall pick and select QB Teddy Bridgewater.

One of the Vikings’ Biggest “What If” Stories

Teddy Bridgewater, scrambles for a 13-yard touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) ORG XMIT: MNCN

Bridgewater would not play the first two games of his rookie season as new head coach Mike Zimmer saw veteran Matt Cassel as more prepared to start. This seemed fine in Minnesota’s Week 1 victory over the Rams by a score of 34-6, but then, the Vikings lost their home-opener to the New England Patriots, 30-7, in a game where Cassel was sacked six times and threw four interceptions.

This caused some rumblings of unrest, but the Vikings continued to roll with Cassel in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints. However, after completing five of his first 10 passes for 53 yards, the Vikings had no choice but to put Bridgewater in when Cassel suffered a broken foot.

Bridgewater’s NFL debut would not go particularly well, but there were signs of promise. The QB completed 12 of his 20 passes for 150 yards, no turnovers, and added six carries for 27 yards on the ground. The Vikings lost 20-9 after failing to reach the end zone.

The following week, though, Bridgewater was able to make his first NFL start against another NFC South team, the Atlanta Falcons. From the very first drive of the game, the rookie QB looked extremely comfortable in the pocket, and in total, Bridgewater completed 19 of his 30 passes for 317 yards while adding 27 rushing yards and a rushing TD to his stat line. The Vikings would win 41-28, but Bridgewater was forced to exit the game early after suffering a sprained ankle.

Sep 28, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) acknowledges the crowd after beating the Atlanta Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 41-28. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

As a result, Bridgewater would not get the start in the following week’s game against the Green Bay Packers. Instead, Christian Ponder would have to take the reins of the offense, and that, well, went about as expected. Ponder completed 22 of his 44 passes for 222 yards and a pair of interceptions as the Vikings lost 42-10 at Lambeau Field.

It was pretty clear at this point: Bridgewater was the best QB on Minnesota’s roster. After healing up from his ankle injury, the rookie returned to the lineup for good in Week 6 against the Detroit Lions (arguably the worst showing of his career as he threw for 188 yards, three interceptions, and was sacked eight times).

Unfortunately, this didn’t immediately translate to winning as the Vikings lost each of their next two games against the Lions and Buffalo Bills to drop to 2-5 on the season. However, Bridgewater would get better as the season wore on, and the Vikings won five of their final nine games of the 2014 season while proving capable of remaining competitive with the Lions and Packers in the NFC North.

The Vikings would ultimately finish the season with a 7-9 record and miss out on the playoffs, but it seemed like they were trending in the right direction at the QB spot. Bridgewater displayed an innate ability to get the ball to the right place while also adding a new element of mobility to the position and proving capable in the clutch (he led three game-winning drives in 2014).

Dec 28, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) high fives fans after the game against the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium. The Minnesota Vikings win 13-9. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This was further proven during the 2015 season. The Vikings lost their Week 1 game against the San Francisco 49ers, but Bridgewater would help lead Minnesota to wins in seven of their next eight games to jump out to a 7-2 record. Their Week 9 win over the Oakland Raiders placed the Vikings in sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

Unfortunately, that led up to a Week 10 game against a hungry 6-3 Packers team, and Green Bay trounced Minnesota by a score of 30-13 despite Bridgewater playing a decent game, passing for 296 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. This spiraled Minnesota towards losing three of four games during the stretch, and the Vikings found themselves 8-5 with three weeks remaining, needing to earn a few victories to ensure a playoff berth, including games against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.

Bridgewater and the Vikings answered the bell in the following two weeks, outscoring the Bears and New York Giants by a combined total of 87-34. The QB threw for 399 yards and five TDs over the two games, perfectly managing the game at the position. This all led to a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field for the NFC North crown. Both teams entered the weekend at 10-5 needing a win to clinch the division. Green Bay dominated Minnesota in the first matchup between these two teams, but the Vikings would jump out to a 20-3 lead and hold on to win the game and the division.

We all know what would transpire in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. In a cold, defensive battle, the Vikings jumped out to a 9-0 lead through three quarters. Then, Russell Wilson’s Seahawks responded by scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter, forcing Bridgewater to drive downfield one more time in under two minutes.

The QB did exactly that, benefiting from a defensive pass interference call against Seattle and hitting TE Kyle Rudolph on a 24-yard pass to put the Vikings in the red zone with 1:26 left on the clock. RB Adrian Peterson would do the rest of the work, placing the Vikings on Seattle’s nine-yard-line with 26 seconds. And, of course, Blair Walsh pulled the 27-yard kick to the left, allowing the Seahawks to kneel out the remainder of the clock and with the game.

Jan 10, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws a pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 season ended in shocking disappointment for the Vikings, but surely, there would be more to come. The growth from Bridgewater was apparent at the QB position, and their defense was one of the best in the NFL. Everything, again, seemed to be pointing upwards in Minnesota.

Until that fateful day on August 30th, 2016, when absolutely everything changed. Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury during practice, dislocating his knee and tearing multiple ligaments. He would never start in a Vikings uniform again, missing the entire 2016 season and attempting just two passes in 2017 before leaving for the New Orleans Saints in free agency. In the snap of a finger, Minnesota had to start over yet again at the QB position.

Since that point, both Bridgewater and the Vikings have gone on to see some positive moments. Minnesota made the NFC Championship Game in 2017, and Bridgewater led the Saints to five straight victories in 2019 en route to their own NFC Championship Game appearance.

This season, Bridgewater was the backup QB for the Detroit Lions and was a part of one more playoff run before officially hanging up his cleats at the age of 31. He’ll now head back to his alma mater, Miami Northwestern High School, to become the head coach where his football journey began.

Meanwhile, the Vikings find themselves in an intriguing situation to draft another young QB in the first round. Ironically, if they did so, it would be the first time that they’ve selected a quarterback in the first round since Bridgewater.

In the end, though, this story between Bridgewater and the Vikings will go down as one of the biggest “what if” scenarios that the franchise has ever seen. What if the QB never got hurt? Would he still be the leader in Minnesota? Would the Vikings have finally captured a Lombardi Trophy?

We’ll never know.

Editor’s Note: Statistics from Pro Football Reference helped with this article.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.