Knockout blow to Teddy Bridgewater wasn't Bountygate 2.0

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater knew the drill when he pulled the ball down to run early in the fourth quarter on Sunday versus the St. Louis Rams. All quarterbacks do. Pick up the first down there, add a couple of rushing yards to the stat column and then slide, dive, whatever. Just get the yardage, get down and live to see the next play.

But Bridgewater still paid for it. And the reality is quarterbacks often will in a league where the QB is the ultimate target, regardless of who is coaching the defense.

The hit? Yeah, it looked nasty. A vicious shot from Rams defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, delivered right as Bridgewater was sliding, or giving himself up. Put that thing in slow motion and you can see the quarterback's head snap down on the turf. It knocked him right out of the game. He was finished.

Immediately after the hit, there was talk of another Gregg Williams' coached defense intentionally targeting players. That hit from Joyner was dirty, right? I get it. The Bountygate tales were going to surface given Williams' past history in the league. I've been on a defense with Williams running the show, and I've seen the bounties.

But before we go pin the hit on Williams, a coach I should admit I respect as much as any I've played for, let's just be honest about the situation from an on-field standpoint.

Williams is a master motivator, a true teacher, a veteran coach who gets the most out of his guys. And his defenses do push the envelope. They walk the line. Always. But to try and pair that with the Joyner hit? Nah. That's a reach. Bridgewater wasn't put on some pregame list with dollar signs next to his name in the program. That's a lazy narrative, a reach to cover up the real story in the NFL. The truth is, if we didn't know what we do about Williams from Bountygate, we wouldn't be able to discern the intent of his defenses from any other team.

This is a fact: Quarterbacks are always targeted, regardless of who is running the defense that day. Take them out, within or on the edge of the rules, and your chances of winning increase dramatically.

Plays like this are easy to critique from the couch or even in the stands. You see a quarterback go down, especially when the head is involved, and the outrage floods social media. Everyone knows the ramifications of concussions, and everyone is an expert, just waiting to throw out opinions, to gain a voice on a hit that doesn't mesh with their standards of clean, ethical play.

When Bridgewater started to slide, everything went wrong. It was the imperfect combination of NFL speed and a QB in the open field. If you want to say Joyner was intentionally trying to bounce Bridgewater's head off the turf like a basketball, then go with it. I probably won't change your mind, and that's fine. But I just don't believe he was looking to make contact with the helmet of the quarterback. That wasn't his plan when he broke downhill and prepared himself to deliver the hit. The rest? Well, it happens when angles change at the last second.

Yes, it was a brutal hit. But put yourself in the shoes of Joyner, or any defender in the NFL that sees the quarterback tuck that ball to run. I've been there, and regardless of who your coach is, your mindset is clear: That's fresh meat in the open field. If you have a shot -- a legitimate shot -- then you drop your pads and put it on him. Make it physical, too. That's not meathead stuff here, it's just football the way you've been trained to play. And while slow motion tells you one thing, in the pros, it happens so fast, like lightning, that defenders just can't pull off in time to save a guy.

I've watched the hit from Joyner over and over. And I've been in those situations as a player. There was an opportunity there for Joyner -- leading with his shoulder -- to put Bridgewater down, to let him know that running the ball against his defense wasn't the best idea going forward. "Next time," Joyner is thinking, "just hang in the pocket and make the throw, or we will take you out." That's the message you are trying to send as a defensive player.

Nice? No, it's not. But that's the reality of the NFL.

ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Bowen played seven seasons in the NFL.