In the history of Vikings football, only two quarterbacks — Brett Favre and Daunte Culpepper — had ever gone four consecutive games with a passer rating over 100 until Case Keenum joined that group last Sunday in a road victory over Atlanta.
Favre accomplished it in 2009 and Culpepper did it in 2000 and again in 2004. Keenum has the highest completion percentage during any of the streaks (74 percent) and has a chance to put together the most effective streak of QB play in franchise history if he has another great game against the Panthers on Sunday in Carolina.
In his four-game stretch, Keenum has completed 94 of 127 passes for 1,093 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions, and also had one running TD.
A lot of the credit for Keenum’s success goes to Pat Shurmur, who took over as offensive coordinator for Norv Turner in the middle of last season and spent this offseason formulating an offense to fit Sam Bradford’s talents.
But after Week 1, all that changed. Bradford was injured, and Keenum and Shumur seem to have reached a great balance that has this offense looking as good as it has in a decade.
“I thought he did terrific,” Shumur said of Keenum’s play in Atlanta. “He finished the game with 15 straight completions. We knew this was going to be a game where it was going to be hard to get big plays, and we had to be efficient and he did that for us. I thought it was one of his better games.”
What does Shumur foresee when Keenum and the offense face the Panthers?
“They’re a tough defense,” he said. “They’re equally as tough to what we played against Atlanta, so it’s going to be a big challenge.”
Keenum had a breakout game in his second start, a 34-17 victory against Tampa Bay in Week 3, completing 25 of 33 passes for 369 yards and three scores. It was his best statistical game of the season thus far, but he was still working to get more comfortable in the offense.
Shumur said that what has distinguished Keenum lately is his steady improvement.
“We knew he was a good player when he came here and our hopes were he could come in and back up,” Shurmur said. “But as we worked with him and he got a chance to go and work in games, you can see he’s a bona fide starter.
“You never can anticipate how good a guy is going to play, but he has done a tremendous job of leading our team, staying within himself, not trying to do too much, and he has played really, really good football.”
Shurmur said he hasn’t necessarily created new plays for Keenum but instead adjusts the offense to fit whoever is behind center.
“We’re running our offense that we have developed throughout the year,” Shurmur said. “I try to veer towards some of the plays that maybe fit him better than Sam, but not a lot of difference. We just try to kind of focus on the plays that [Keenum] does better.”
The Vikings are balanced and talented on offense. Their 370.4 yards per game are fifth in the league, split between 247.6 passing yards per game (13th overall in the NFL) and 122.8 rushing yards per game (sixth).
Shurmur said he believes that balance and talent are what has elevated Keenum from being a perpetual backup with mediocre teams, such as the Texans and Rams, to becoming an MVP candidate with the Vikings.
“He has good players playing around him,” Shurmur said. “The offensive line is much improved from a year ago. Our guys do a really good job of catching the football, which is huge. It seems like an obvious thing for a wide receiver, but our guys do it extremely well. We found a way to run the ball with some consistency and some efficiency, and I think all of that plays into it.”
Has Shurmur ever coached a group of receivers like this before?
“I think they are very unselfish, and any pass we call, the ball could go to any one of the receivers and they can get the job done,” he said. “Then they are very, in my mind, unselfish. They just want to win. All receivers want the ball every single play, but our guys do a really good job, if they don’t get the ball, of working or blocking for the guy that does.”
Handling three QBs
Shumur has had a hectic season, starting with Bradford at quarterback, moving on to Keenum and then dealing with the return of Teddy Bridgewater from a catastrophic knee injury.
“This is a little bit unique,” Shurmur said. “But the good news is that the guys we are putting in there are finding a way to have success. I think it’s a credit to the guys on offense [and] the coaches. We put together a plan that we think is going to work against the team we’re going to face. The quarterbacks come in here throughout the week, study it and learn it, and when they go out on Sundays, we’re finding ways to have success.”
What does Shumur think of Bridgewater’s play at this point?
“He looks better to me every opportunity he gets to go out and practice,” he said. “I think he looks good. He’s our No. 2 quarterback, so at whatever point he gets in the game, we’re looking forward to seeing him perform well.”
Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, who talked to the Vikings on Saturday night before their victory in Atlanta and sat with the Wilf family during the game, played in four Super Bowls and said he believes this team could reach the big game on Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium. He admires how well Vikings players have worked together.
“I think there are probably six or seven teams that are good enough to go to the Super Bowl, and I think this team is certainly as good as any team playing right now. I think we’re rock-solid,” Tarkenton said. “Our defense is great. Our offensive line is so much better than a year ago. Our receivers are terrific. Even though we lost the great rookie running back [Dalvin] Cook, we’re getting [Latavius] Murray and [Jerick] McKinnon and the running backs we have are playing really, really well. Case Keenum is just playing lights out, my gosh.
“What you have to respect is Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater being well again, I think it’s great. He knows this is his team, but he got hurt. He is playing a great support role. He’s not a distraction. We’re lucky to have both of the quarterbacks.”
When asked if Keenum could lead this team to a Super Bowl, Tarkenton said there’s no doubt.
“Case Keenum is playing great, and he’s the hot hand and he deserves to play,” he said. “I think they can win a Super Bowl with Case Keenum, and I think they can win a Super Bowl with Teddy Bridgewater.”
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org