EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are tied atop the NFC North, but for the first time in a quarter century or so, it’s the Vikings who are stronger at quarterback.
On Monday, as the Packers were dealing with Aaron Rodgers’ possible season-ending broken right collarbone, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer announced that former starter Teddy Bridgewater will begin practicing after nearly 14 months of rehab following his horrific left knee injury suffered a week before the 2016 season.
“It’s great,” Zimmer said the day after the Vikings knocked Rodgers out of the game midway through the first quarter of a 23-10 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium. “He’s worked extremely hard – obviously not only him, the training staff, the doctors, (strength and conditioning coach) Mark Uyeyama, all those guys have done a great job with him, trying to rehab him and get him ready to practice. It’s a great deal for Teddy, and we’ll take it one day at a time, just like we have the last 14 months.”
Bridgewater dislocated the knee and tore multiple ligaments, including the anterior cruciate ligament. Although he is returning to practice on Wednesday, he’ll remain on the physically unable to perform list. The Vikings then have three weeks to decide whether to activate him or keep him on PUP the rest of the season.
“We’re not going to dose him out on Wednesday,” Zimmer said while explaining that Bridgewater will be eased back into practice slowly.
Meanwhile, as long as the offensive line keeps playing well and Zimmer’s standout defense stays healthy, the Vikings could keep winning with career journeyman Case Keenum at quarterback. Keenum threw his first interception of the season on Sunday, but was otherwise successful while raising his record as a starter this season to 2-2. He also performed well in a winning relief stint of Sam Bradford last week in Chicago.
The Vikings could have delayed Bridgewater’s return to push back the 21-day window to activate him. The fact they decided to practice him on Wednesday probably means Bradford’s left knee isn’t doing well enough to return in the next three games.
In the season opener, Bradford hurt the knee, which he had ACL surgery on in 2013 and 2014. He tried to return at Chicago in Week 5, but was pulled by halftime when it was obvious the left knee wasn’t ready to play.
The Vikings have another home game Sunday. Then they travel to London to play the Browns. They’ll be favored to go 6-2 heading into the bye.
If the Vikings keep winning, they’ll probably stick with Keenum even if Bridgewater is added to the active roster. But even if Bridgewater served as a temporary backup, it would eliminate the possibility of rookie Kyle Sloter having to make his NFL debut if Keenum goes down with an injury.
And as the NFC North discovered again on Sunday, backup quarterbacks are literally only one play from having to become starters.
–It appears Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer have differing views on whether Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr made a clean play when he broke Aaron Rodgers’ right collarbone with a tackle after a Rodgers throw midway through the first quarter of Sunday’s game.
Barr wasn’t flagged on the play. Rodgers released the ball, but Barr’s momentum carried him into Rodgers. He wrapped Rodgers up and took him to the ground, but did not drive him into the turf.
On Monday, McCarthy called the hit “totally unnecessary.”
Zimmer, meanwhile, was asked on Monday if he’s talked to Barr about the hit since there has been “a lot of scrutiny” over whether the play was clean or dirty.
“No, I haven’t talked to him,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know what the scrutiny is. We’re playing football. It’s unfortunate that he got hurt, but I think everything was above board.
“We’re not a dirty football team. We’ll never be a dirty football team as long as I’m here. We’re going to play within the rules and sometimes things happen.”
–The Vikings lead the NFL in third-down defense as opponents are converting only 25 percent. The defense also ranks in the top five against the run (third), points allowed (fifth) and yards allowed (fifth).
Defensive end Everson Griffen was swarmed Monday by reporters wanting to know why the defense is oh so good.
“Cause we bad. Cause we bad,” said Griffen, who has a team-leading seven sacks. “Anytime we get the rush, we’re going to be bad. We got that confidence. That swag. We’re not going to let anything interfere with that.”
NOTES: WR Stefon Diggs (groin) didn’t play Sunday. He caught only one ball for four yards the week before in Chicago. This is a trend that continues after a groin injury slowed him for parts of last season. … WR Laquon Treadwell had the best game of his very disappointing two-year career. Given more opportunities with Stefon Diggs sidelined, the former first-round draft pick caught three passes for a career-high 51 yards. He made a leaping one-handed grab for a 25-yard gain. … LG Nick Easton (calf) did not play Sunday. He will be evaluated this week. The Vikings started versatile backup Jeremiah Sirles, who made no glaring errors as the Vikings ran for 112 yards and didn’t allow a sack. … QB Sam Bradford didn’t play Sunday, as expected. He missed his fourth game of the season because of the lingering injury to his left knee. Head coach Mike Zimmer hasn’t ruled Bradford out for Sunday’s game against Baltimore, but Bradford isn’t expected to play. … SS Andrew Sendejo (groin) didn’t play on Sunday. He was a game-time decision. That put veteran special-teams leader Anthony Harris in the game as the starter. Harris held his own and actually had tight coverage on the play in which Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Harris’ coverage on Geronimo Allison took away Rodgers’ first checkdown option. Rodgers looked at Allison, saw the tight coverage and then looked to tight end Martellus Bennett. That allowed linebacker Anthony Barr to close in and deliver the hit that injured Rodgers.
REPORT CARD VS. PACKERS
–PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus – The Vikings were missing three offensive starters in Sam Bradford, left guard Nick Easton and receiver Stefon Diggs. So, all things considered, it was an encouraging effort. But Case Keenum did throw his first interception of the season, which the Packers turned into their only touchdown. Adam Thielen had nine catches for 97 of the team’s 239 passing yards, while running back Jerick McKinnon scored on a 27-yard screen pass. The latter showcased how well the line and the receivers are doing in the screen game since the Vikings made it a point of emphasis this past offseason.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: C – It was nothing fancy considering the Vikings averaged only 3.4 yards on 33 carries. Starter Latavius Murray continues to disappoint. He turned a season-high 15 carries into a season-low 1.9-yard average. Jerick McKinnon continues to impress with effort, speed and quickness. But he fumbled again for the third straight game. It was the second time he’s lost a fumble. The Packers turned it into a field goal. McKinnon finished with 69 yards on 16 carries (4.3).
–PASS DEFENSE: A – It helps not having to face Aaron Rodgers for the last 53 minutes of the game. Rodgers broke his right collarbone when Anthony Barr tackled him after he threw a pass. Rodgers threw only four passes, completing two for 18 yards. His replacement, Brett Hundley, had thrown 11 career passes before being ushered into the game. He completed only 18 of 33 passes for 157 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. The Vikings were more aggressive with their blitzes after Hundley entered the game. He was under heavy pressure the entire game. Safety Harrison Smith had 1.5 sacks and a leaping, one-handed interception.
–RUSH DEFENSE: A – The Packers never could get anything going on the ground. Rookie Aaron Jones, who had 125 yards the week before in Dallas, was held to 41 yards and a 3.2 average with a long run of nine yards. Ty Montgomery returned from broken ribs and was held to 28 yards and a 2.8 average with a long run of seven yards.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: C – Kai Forbath made all five kicks, including three field goals. All three field goals, including a 53-yarder, came in the second half and kept the game comfortable for the home team. The return games need to step it up. Receiver Stacy Coley took over as kickoff returner with McKinnon getting more involved in the offense. Coley returned only one kick for 19 yards. Punt returner Marcus Sherels’ only return went for a loss of five yards.
–COACHING: A – With their quarterback, left guard, top receiver and strong safety out because of injury, the Vikings played solid football and won a game they absolutely had to win once Rodgers left the game in the first quarter. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur continues to get the most out of Keenum, who is 2-2 as a starter and also came on in winning relief at Chicago the week before. Defensively, head coach Mike Zimmer dialed up the pressure perfectly when Rodgers went down.
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