In bridging the gap from Teddy Bridgewater’s 2016 knee injury to his return to the field on Sunday, the Vikings featured two quarterbacks. The first, Sam Bradford, is done for the season and appears unlikely to make a cameo. The second, Case Keenum, is in the midst of a career season — and is playing the part of a future star.
Watching the Vikings quarterback situation the past 20 years has been like watching the same high school play every December for two straight decades. Every year, there’s some fun highlights, expected embarrassment, and a new person in the lead role.
Supporting characters change year by year, but the same plot-points take place, the same challenges are encountered, and a similar conclusion comes to fruition. In 2017, however, the show has been distinctly unique.
Sam Bradford was the unquestioned starter to begin the season. His ability to make every throw from the pocket look easy, his record-breaking season of yesteryear, and of course, Teddy’s injury, made Sam the clear-cut No. 1 option.
Bradford opened the season with a bang, going 27 of 32 for 346 yards with three touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints (who are now 10-4). During the game, Bradford suffered a knee injury that originally appeared to be a non-issue.
After visiting a specialist, the injury was labeled as a “bone bruise” and Bradford was listed as “week-to-week.” He practiced, albeit uncomfortably, but the situation seemed auspicious. That is, however, until he returned to game action.
Bradford started Week 5 at Chicago. A cringeworthy performance made it obvious that a few weeks of rest did nothing to ease Bradford’s pain. He hobbled around like a wounded Christian Ponder and was removed before intermission.
After the game, Bradford again visited famed sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews. This time, he underwent an exploratory arthroscopic procedure to determine the source of the lingering pain.
Multiple remedies failed to ease his discomfort, so the Vikings placed Bradford on injured reserve during the bye week. Sadly, his 2017 season ended on this 30th birthday.
In a dramatic turn of events, Teddy Bridgewater was activated from the PUP list in a corresponding roster move.
Some expected Bridgewater to move seamlessly into the starting role after the bye week. However, being that he hadn’t practiced in over a year and a half, the team felt he wasn’t ready. Plus the Vikings were 6-2 at the time, and the backup quarterback had just led the team to four consecutive wins.
The substitute — a $2 million journeyman who began his Vikings career as an emergency replacement for Bradford in Week 2 — had earned the opportunity to lead Minnesota’s offense.
Case Keenum was to fill-in as the interim starter until coaches deemed Bridgewater ready; at least that was the plan. Keenum was 4-2 as a starter at that point but was still unproven. He had flashed both shaky and admirable traits. But the team wanted an encore.
Keenum, a free agent quarterback brought in by the Vikings this offseason, was known as an outstanding college passer with a strong football pedigree. Those features, combined with nimble pocket presence and the ability to throw the ball accurately on the run, meshed well with the scheme of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Despite the fact he had to fight off Bridgewater to keep his job, Keenum flourished while in the spotlight. He led the Vikings to eight consecutive victories, and in the process, grew into a dynamic quarterback. His season-long improvement, development as a teammate, elevated production, and “big balls” mentality made it impossible for head coach Mike Zimmer to replace him as the starter.
The Vikings’ supporting cast has played a key role in this story as well. The offensive line has shown substantial improvement this season, allowing Keenum to shine in his lead role. A strong cadence with his men in the trenches as well as a rapport with his pass catchers has brought unprecedented levels of balance and harmony to the offense.
Keenum, the underdog, has played the role of savior for the 2017 Vikings.
The team is 11-3 after 14 games.
It remains to be seen when the story will climax, and that’s the best part.
Will the Vikings fizzle out of the playoffs immediately? Does Keenum play the hero and lead the Vikings to a Super Bowl victory at the Bank? Will an unexpected turn of events occur? Or will another storyline develop?
The coming weeks will determine how the drama unfolds.
While the story remains unfinished, this season’s tale has been vastly different from that of years past. Rather than re-watching the same old story, a new script has been written right before our eyes.
Because of the depth and character of Minnesota’s quarterbacks, the Vikings future looks brighter than ever — encouraging rather than grim, optimistic rather than hopeless, and most importantly, capable of producing a happy-ending for the good guys, rather than another heartbreak.
Grab your popcorn, the show is just getting started.
Table: The 2017 Starting Cast and their Vikings stats.[table “124” not found /]