Winners of five consecutive games with Case Keenum at quarterback, the Vikings decided there was no reason to change what’s been working before Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Coach Mike Zimmer announced Wednesday that Keenum will start against the Rams, facing his former team in a matchup of 7-2 clubs vying for a first-round playoffs bye. Keenum, who’s 5-2 as a starter this season and helped the Vikings start their winning streak on Oct. 8 by relieving injured Sam Bradford in Chicago, will keep the job while Teddy Bridgewater spends another week as his backup.
Zimmer said the deliberations about starting Keenum at quarterback were “not difficult,” adding that Keenum’s play on Sunday — when he threw for a career-high four touchdowns and 304 yards along with two interceptions in a win over the Redskins — was “part of” the reason he’s getting another start on Sunday.
The decision means Keenum will square off against the team for which he started 14 games over the past two seasons. He started the first nine games of the season for the Rams a year ago, before giving way to Jared Goff. Now, the two quarterbacks will face off on Sunday with playoff positioning at stake.
“He’s a great dude. We’ve kept up throughout the season — obviously, a lot of congratulatory texts between the two of us,” Keenum said. “I think one of my friends said it right: Just like everybody predicted, Case Keenum with the 7-2 Minnesota Vikings going up against the 7-2 Rams.”
Said Goff: “He’s the type of guy you couldn’t be happier for. To be in [Year 6], and playing the best ball of his career is exciting.”
The 29-year-old Keenum has earned the right to pause and reflect for a moment, after already setting a career high for touchdown passes in a season (11) while putting himself on pace for career highs in completion percentage, yards and passer rating. Now, he’s facing the team that let him go to make room for Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft.
Keenum told Sports Illustrated on Sunday night that if he started against the Rams, “somebody’s going to have to slap me before the game — hard. This game means something to me.” By Wednesday, though, he had pivoted to a more diplomatic outlook.
He said he thought briefly about re-signing with the Rams this spring — it was “just not a good fit” — before signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the Vikings. The game itself, he said, carried no additional significance beyond its weight in the playoff race.
“That’s how I’m treating it: another game,” he said. “I know a lot of those guys, but for me, this week, it’s going to be business as usual. And business as usual is me doing my job.”
Bridgewater, Zimmer said on Wednesday, is ready to play in a game after being activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list a week ago. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t dress” and be on the active roster on Sundays, Zimmer said.
The quarterback’s return to the starting lineup, however, remains on hold. Things could stay the same next week, as well, with the Vikings facing a quick turnaround before a Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Detroit Lions next Thursday. They would have a 10-day break between that game and their Dec. 3 trip to Atlanta to face the Falcons.
In the meantime, Keenum remains in charge of the offense. He’ll face an aggressive Rams defense that has generated the ninth-most pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the NFL this season, according to Football Outsiders, and he’ll look to cut down on his turnovers after throwing five interceptions in the past four games, including a pair of picks on back-to-back passes against the Redskins last Sunday.
Zimmer has said Keenum is “an excitable guy” on the field and linked the interceptions on Sunday to the quarterback needing a better feel for game situations. The Vikings had a 35-20 lead when Keenum threw both of his interceptions; the second one set up a Redskins touchdown that cut the Vikings’ lead to eight.
“I can’t put our team in tough spots like that,” Keenum said. “We battled through, and made the right plays when we needed to, but I’ve just got to be smart in those situations.”
He’ll get his chance to keep the Vikings’ win streak going on Sunday.
“You know, at the end of the day, to be honest, if it ain’t broken, you don’t fix it,” defensive end Everson Griffen said about the Vikings’ QB situation. “And that’s all I’ve got to say. And it ain’t broken, so you don’t fix it.”