MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings began the year with a carefully-manicured plan for Teddy Bridgewater's development. They would let him mature as Matt Cassel's backup, away from the pressure that comes with starting as a rookie. Perhaps at some point they would hand him the job -- after their bye week in November, maybe -- but they certainly wouldn't be rushed into anything.
That plan lasted all of 2 1/2 weeks until Cassel broke several bones in his left foot. Thrust into the starting job, Bridgewater thrived.
Playing with no Adrian Peterson, a depleted offensive line and a receiver group in flux, Bridgewater improved steadily throughout the season, finishing the year with the seventh-highest passer rating (85.2) and third-highest completion percentage (64.4) by a rookie in NFL history. After all that, Bridgewater was voted the NFC North Rookie of the Year by our merry band of NFL Nation writers covering the division.
He finished with 14 points, claiming four of the five first-place votes, and beat out teammate Anthony Barr, who received the other first-place vote and wound up with seven points. Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller finished third, Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley was fourth and Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was fifth.
Bridgewater's improvement at the end of the season, and his poise through both the good and bad moments during his rookie year, might be the biggest reasons why the Vikings have so much hope for their future. After his calamitous pro day caused him to drop to the end of the first round, he'd resolved many of the concerns about his accuracy and arm strength by the end of the season. Bridgewater showed a veteran's command of the Vikings' offense, checking into a screen pass that went for a game-winning 87-yard touchdown in overtime Dec. 7 after he used a hard count to get the New York Jets to show their blitz.
He already seems to have the confidence of the Vikings' veterans, in addition to their front office and coaching staff. The identity of the team, it seems, will be in his hands.
"I think it's no secret in the NFL that the quarterback is the big difference," safety Harrison Smith said Dec. 30. "It's what they talk about on TV all day. Having that position, having a guy like Teddy, who's got all the tools to do it, who's got the mindset, the way the guys feel about him -- he's a guy that's not doing things off the field -- it's huge."
Bridgewater has already talked about getting all of his receivers together to work out with him in South Florida this offseason, and the Vikings have plenty of confidence he'll take the next step in Year 2. The way he handled a chaotic rookie season made believers of many in the organization.
"Somebody asked me, 'Is he going to take charge?' and all of these things," Zimmer said on Dec. 28. "All I know is, the players on the football team, the coaches, the organization, hopefully the fans, believe in this kid. He gives them hope. The thing that I get impressed with, with him, is he makes other people better around him."
Here are the final results from the ballot (first-place votes in parentheses):
Teddy Bridgewater 14 (4)
Anthony Barr 7 (1)
Kyle Fuller 5
Corey Linsley 3
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix 1