NFL Preview – Minnesota (2-4) at Buffalo (3-3) (ET)

By John McMullen, NFL Editor

( – Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is in firm control
of the Minnesota Vikings right now.

Second-year Buffalo signal caller E.J. Manuel, however, is proof positive that
any declarative statement in the NFL can change in a heartbeat.

The future of the Vikings will start his first road game on Sunday against the
Bills, a team that benched their future in favor of veteran Kyle Orton after
just four games.

Bridgewater took over for Minnesota after Matt Cassel suffered a season-ending
broken foot and flashed extraordinary skills in his first NFL start, throwing
for 317 yards and rushing for a touchdown in a 41-28 win over Atlanta back on
Sept. 28.

The Louisville product sprained an ankle late in that game, though, and missed
the Vikings’ 42-10 blowout loss at Green Bay four days later before returning
and playing poorly last Sunday against Detroit and its No. 1 ranked defense.

Bridgewater completed 23-of-37 passes for 188 yards and three interceptions in
a 17-3 loss to the Lions. He was also sacked eight times.

“Well obviously that’s a disappointing performance,” said Minnesota head coach
Mike Zimmer. “I expected better today and I thought we practiced well all
week. Disappointed we didn’t protect the quarterback and we didn’t block

“You’re not just going to go out there and be perfect,” Bridgewater added.
“There’s some throws that you’re not going to be able to control and there
will be things that happen throughout the course of a game that you won’t be
able to control.”

The Bills, meanwhile, played their first game under new ownership last Sunday,
but the New England Patriots continued to own the Bills on the field, winning

Terry Pegula and wife Kim were unanimously approved as new owners of the Bills
earlier in the week but the Pats, who scored on five straight possessions at
one point, beat the Bills for the 21st time in the last 22 meetings and their
latest triumph placed them alone at the top of the AFC East.

Orton completed 24-of-38 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one
interception for Buffalo, which has lost three of four after opening the
season 2-0.

“Going forward, we’ve got to be excited with where we’re at, understand that
we got to get a lot better and realize that we’ve got the guys to do that,”
Orton said.

The Vikings lead their all-time series with the Bills by an 8-4 margin,
winning 38-14 in the last contest back on Dec. 5, 2010.


You are going to have highs and lows with any young quarterback and
Bridgewater looked Canton bound against Atlanta before coming back down to
earth against the Lions’ fierce pass rush.

Bridgewater took the blame for his poor performance against Detroit but it was
really an offensive line issue, particularly with left tackle Matt Kalil, a
one-time Pro Bowler, whose regression as a player has been stark and stunning.

The other members of the “Minnesota Moving Company” have also struggled at
times and two of Bridgewater’s three picks against the Lions were on tipped
balls, although the first turnover was a very poor read in the end zone that
took points off the board for the Vikings and changed the whole complexion of
the game.

It’s also tough to judge Bridgewater harshly because the 32nd overall pick in
May’s draft is playing without three of the team’s top-five projected
playmakers who have either been banished (Adrian Peterson), released (Jerome
Simpson) or injured (Kyle Rudolph).

“I don’t think he’s thinking, ‘Woe is me,'” Zimmer said earlier this season.
“I think he’s thinking about his opportunity and what he has to do to help
this football team.”

For now Zimmer remains sold on Teddy.

“I believe, with all my heart, that Teddy Bridgewater is going to be the
franchise quarterback here for a long, long time,” the coach said. “I believe
that the team believes that, too.”

This game will certainly be put on Bridgewater’s shoulders because Buffalo
leads the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 67.5 yards per game, and
Minnesota’s run game has been virtually non-existent without Peterson.

The key is playing a clean game. The Vikings have committed 10 turnovers
(nine interceptions, one fumble) and have allowed 22 sacks but none of those
have come in Minnesota’s two wins, a fact not lost on Zimmer.

“I’ve talked a lot about winning and losing and what causes you to win and
what good teams do and what bad teams do,” Zimmer said. “The two games we’ve
won we’ve had no turnovers and no sacks, the (four) games we’ve lost we’ve had
10 turnovers and 20 sacks. It kind of tells you where it’s at right there.”

Orton is averaging a little over 300 passing yards in his two starts but had
two interceptions against New England. He will be matching up against the
NFL’s sixth-ranked passing defense. The Vikings have allowed 213.8 passing
yards per game, and playmaking safety Harrison Smith is tied for the NFL lead
with three interceptions.

On paper the Bills have plenty of skill-position talent lead by C.J. Spiller
and Fred Jackson in the backfield and talented rookie receiver Sammy Watkins
outside the numbers but Buffalo has scored only 11 touchdowns in six games.

“We’re looking for consistency. We’ve been up and down,” Bills coach Doug
Marrone said. “Obviously, we made a switch at quarterback (to Kyle Orton).
We’re trying to get ourselves situated to what he does well and the receivers
used to him and things like that. Trying to get the running game to
produce better. We’re trying to get better and become more consistent on
the offensive side of things.”

The biggest issue might be penalties. Only two teams have been caught with
their hands in the cookie jar more than the Bills this season.

“Sometimes we can’t stay out of our own way,” Orton said.


It’s hard to imagine any rookie playing completely clean in his first start
away from home and it’s even harder to imagine Kalil blocking Jerry Hughes or
Mario Williams. Figure on the Bills getting their heads back above water here.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Bills 21, Vikings 13