UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Bridgewater QB starter? History asks, Why not?

The Broncos begin training camp next Wednesday for the expanded, 17-game 2021 National Football League season, and I still don’t understand the skepticism and doubt about Teddy Bridgewater as possibly Denver’s starting quarterback.

It’s interesting that many of the same people who deride Drew Lock and are certain he’s not the long-term answer to lead the Denver offense nevertheless question Bridgewater’s capability to be an upgrade.

Nothing against Lock, but Bridgewater was a budding star with Minnesota before leg and knee injuries effectively cost him three seasons (2016-18).  His performances during the years he wasn’t dealing with injury, suggest that he is fully capable of leading a team to the post-season, perhaps more so than Lock.

Let’s look at the record:

Bridgewater completed 551 of 849 passes in 29 games his first two seasons—that’s 64.9%—for 6,132 yards and 28 touchdowns (21 interceptions). Lock, by comparison, has completed 345 of 599 passes—69%— in his first two seasons, for 3,953 yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

Bridgewater averaged 11.1 yards per completion those two seasons; Lock, 11.5. In Bridgewater’s first two seasons, his quarterback ratings were 85.2 and 88.7.  Lock’s were 89.7 and 75.4.

So, their first two seasons are pretty comparable. Statistically. 

But the Vikings won the NFC North in Bridgewater’s second season, with an 11-5 record. Last season, Lock’s second, the Broncos were 5-11 and were dead last in the AFC West. In 2019, when Bridgewater was finally healthy again and the great Drew Brees was out for five games with a thumb injury that required surgery, Bridgewater merely went 5-0 filling in. 

That tells me that if you surround him with good players, he won’t drag them down. (And, at least before the first pass that counts is thrown this season, the Broncos appear to have accumulated enough talent to be playoff contenders.)

In 2019, when he replaced Brees for a third of the Saints’ games, Bridgewater completed 133 of 196 passes for 1,384 yards. He threw for nine touchdowns and only two interceptions, and his quarterback rating was 99.1. That was impressive enough to land a three-year, $65 million contract from Carolina.

The 2020 Panthers, though, weren’t very good. They matched the Broncos’ 5-11 record and finished next-to-last in the NFC South, one win better than Atlanta. Still, he threw for 3,733 yards, exactly 800 more than Lock. 

Before this year’s college draft, the hapless New York Jets convinced Carolina to take their latest quarterback of the future, Sam Darnold, so they could choose Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson to be their QB of the future.  

It remains to be seen if Darnold is an improvement over Bridgewater, but the move made Bridgewater and what remained of his big contract available, if not an albatross. New Broncos General Manager George Paton, who got to know Bridgewater well in Minnesota, was happy to snap him up for a sixth-round draft pick. 

And here we are.  

Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, who will never be called loquacious, effusive or glib, hasn’t defended Bridgewater’s honor or justified the team’s belief that he could be the starting quarterback. But he knows, from first-hand experience.

Recognized as one of the premier defensive minds in pro football, Fangio was the Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator in 2015 when Minnesota finished first in the NFC North with Bridgewater running the offense.

In their first meeting that year, a 23-23 Vikings victory in Chicago, Bridgewater directed a seven-play, 84-yard drive in just over three minutes to tie the game on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Stephon Diggs with 1:49 left to play.  Then he drove Minnesota 48 yards in the final minute to set up a game-winning 36-yard field goal. He was, literally, unstoppable.

Later in the season, in Minnesota, Bridgewater torched Fangio’s defense for four touchdown passes and a near-record 154.4 quarterback rating in a 38-17 rout.  

Bridgewater isn’t some aging veteran, well past his prime, who is looking for one last hurrah. He’ll be 29 on November 10—coincidentally, the same day Drew Lock turns 25. (Yes, both quarterbacks were born on the same date, four years apart.)

The Broncos’ first of three preseason games is August 12 against, fittingly, Bridgewater’s original team, the Vikings. Games against the Seahawks and Rams will follow.

It should be interesting.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related.  You can write to Denny at info@comservbooks.com.

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