Success in the National Football League is measured by the slightest of margins. An inch on fourth and short, the fateful bounce of a football off a receiver’s fingertips, a field goal that sails just left of the uprights. Wins and losses are defined by more than highlight touchdown runs or explosive touchdowns — they boil down to a team’s ability to do the little things to perfection, no matter the situation or conditions.
On Sunday afternoon, in a hard-fought battle a mile above the ocean, the Denver Broncos proved they’re a team capable of making the minute details of the game second-nature. Drive down the field and kick the game-winning field goal? Not a problem. Blitz Teddy Bridgewater and seal the victory with a sack-fumble? Schemed — and executed — to perfection. When the bell rang, the Broncos answered, and for that, they came away with a 23-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Mike Zimmer’s team, meanwhile, weathered the storm that was Denver’s top-ranked defense and held on until the very end, making yesterday’s game a much closer battle than originally anticipated. Unlike the Broncos, though, the Vikings missed golden opportunities to steal a win from a 2014 playoff contender. A missed field goal, costly penalties on Denver’s final drive, and miscommunication along the offensive line squandered Minnesota’s opportunity to claim a “signature win” against the Broncos.
No one understands those details better than second-year Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who went into Denver and outplayed the Broncos’ Peyton Manning, finishing the game with a 92.4 quarterback rating to the future Hall-of-Famer’s 68.9 rating. The stats jump out on paper, but a loss is a loss, and Bridgewater believes yesterday’s game was a learning lesson for himself and his teammates:
“We were in this game and had an opportunity to win it. We were a couple of plays away,” Bridgewater said. “This is one of those games where you have to be perfect. We know that we’re going to be in another game like this at some point this year and make sure we come out on top.”
Playoff teams win those games, and playoff teams find ways to win with their backs against the wall. The Vikings may not be ready for January football yet, but Mike Zimmer has this team heading in the right direction a quarter into this young 2015 season.