After a visit to Minnesota, the Jacksonville Jaguars should be asking themselves a question familiar to Vikings fans:
How’s Teddy lookin’?
Two veteran quarterbacks faced excellent defenses at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday. Kirk Cousins and Blake Bortles had this in common: Both completed about half of the passes they threw to guys wearing purple.
At the end of Bortles’ first drive, he hit Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander in the chest, and Alexander dropped the ball. Next drive, Vikings safety Harrison Smith caught Bortles’ pass cleanly.
Both passes came over the middle in the Jaguars’ end of the field. They were amateurish mistakes, especially considering that Bortles’ primary job as the quarterback of a run-first, defense-minded team is to avoid turnovers.
The last time Bortles played a game that mattered, he helped Jacksonville to a 14-3 lead against the Patriots in the AFC title game. Unimpressed, Bill Belichick built his comeback strategy around daring the Jaguars to throw the ball.
The Jags refused. They took a knee with 55 seconds and two timeouts remaining in the first half — the only team to kneel with that much time and that many timeouts all season. Their conservatism, which should be interpreted as a lack of confidence in Bortles, allowed the Patriots to come back.
In that game, Bortles was 13-for-15 for 155 yards and a touchdown in the first half and 10-for-21 for 148 yards and no touchdowns in the second half, against a Patriots defense that was shredded by Nick Foles and the Patriots two weeks later in the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium.
A few months later, the Vikings parted ways with Teddy Bridgewater and signed Cousins. Cousins gives Minnesota a healthy and prolific starter who is under contract for three years, while Bridgewater wasn’t guaranteed to return to his previous form.
Bridgewater has looked sharp in the Jets’ camp, and in their preseason games. He looks like their best quarterback, but rookie Sam Darnold is taking most of the first-team snaps in practice.
If the Jets make the mistake of trading Bridgewater, the Jaguars would be foolish not to acquire him — just as they were foolish not to sign him as a free agent.
Jacksonville can’t be expected to bench their “franchise” quarterback and install Bridgewater as their starter at this juncture, but they would be wise to prepare for a Bortles meltdown.
The Jaguars’ backup quarterback is Cody Kessler. Kessler has no professional football experience, although he has played for the Browns.
Bridgewater has taken a team to the playoffs, and played well enough to win a playoff game, and appeared to be ready to excel when he injured his knee before the 2016 season.
This preseason, Bridgewater has looked stronger and has thrown the ball with more authority than he did when he was in Minnesota.
“I’ve watched him play in both games and I’m extremely proud and happy for him,” Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “I saw him run around a couple of times on Thursday and he looks like he’s feeling great.”
Will he be a starter again in the NFL? “Absolutely,” Rudolph said.
Soon? “No question,” Rudolph said. “There’s such a premium for that position, to find that guy, and we all knew it when he was here — when he’s healthy, he’s a starting quarterback in the NFL.”
“From being around Teddy as long as I was, and being with him before he was injured, he’s a really good player,” Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said. “If he gets the right opportunity in the right situation, he can be one of the better quarterbacks in this league. He was right there before he got hurt and I don’t know why that would change because of an injury.”
Bridgewater will start again in the NFL. And if he winds up playing in the second half of a championship game, his team won’t be afraid to let him throw the ball on first down.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org