Remember when the Minnesota Vikings’ offense and their hopes to be a top NFC contender this season were all about Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson?
That’s so last month.
Now it’s all about Sam Bradford and Stefon Diggs.
Peterson, the NFL’s leading rusher last season, is scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday, the Vikings confirmed Wednesday, to have the torn meniscus in his right knee repaired. He was injured in the second half of Sunday night’s triumph over the Green Bay Packers, which raised the Vikings’ record to 2-0. According to ESPN, which first reported news of Thursday’s surgery, Peterson potentially could be sidelined for three months or longer, raising the possibility that his 2016 season could be over.
If so, Peterson would join Bridgewater in having his season ended early. Bridgewater, the team’s quarterback who reached the Pro Bowl last season as a second-year pro, suffered a dislocated left knee and a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a practice-field injury before the season. The Vikings also announced Wednesday they were placing left tackle Matt Kalil on the injured reserve list due to a hip injury.
The Vikings, after winning the NFC North last season and suffering a near-miss playoff defeat to the Seattle Seahawks on a missed field goal, once hoped that Bridgewater’s continued development as a passer would complement Peterson’s running and enable them to make a run deeper into the postseason this season. Those plans obviously are scrapped.
To their credit, they moved quickly and boldly after Bridgewater’s injury and traded for Bradford. Many observers were critical of them for surrendering first- and fourth-round draft picks to the Philadelphia Eagles for a quarterback who has been hurt so often and generally has failed to fulfill the expectations associated with being a top overall selection in the NFL draft. But Bradford is a capable passer, as he demonstrated in his first start for the team Sunday night.
He threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns in a 22-for-31 passing display. He didn’t throw an interception. He stood in the pocket and absorbed some rugged hits to buy his receivers time to get open. He thoroughly outplayed his Packers counterpart, Aaron Rodgers.
The primary beneficiary was Diggs, who had nine catches for 182 yards and a touchdown. He joined Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Sidney Rice as the only Vikings wide receivers in the last 25 years to be named NFC offensive player of the week.
Diggs was productive last season as a rookie, with 52 catches for 720 yards and four touchdowns. He is well on his way to doing far better this year. And the Vikings probably will need him to be an offensive centerpiece now that so much depends on Bradford and the passing game.
The Bradford deal could be the rare trade that works out well for both teams. No one will worry too much about what the Vikings gave up if Bradford stays healthy and in the lineup and the Vikings thrive. The Eagles abandoned their blueprint to have prized rookie Carson Wentz sit and wait his turn behind Bradford. It’s so far, so good on that. Wentz has become the only NFL rookie quarterback since 1970 to start and win his team’s first two games of a season without throwing an interception.
The long-range view for the Minnesota offense is not clear. Bridgewater is expected to make a full recovery. But his injury was extremely serious and the timetable for his return is not certain.
Peterson turns 32 in March, making him ancient in NFL running back terms. He has revived his career before. He suffered a torn ACL in his left knee at the end of the 2011 season and returned to have a 2,000-yard rushing season in 2012. He led the league in rushing again last season after missing all but one game of the 2014 season while on what amounted to paid leave as he faced legal troubles. It has not been wise to count him out previously as a standout on-field performer.
But it gets more difficult as time goes on, and his hefty contract perhaps would have to be renegotiated before next season for him to remain with the team.
Those are issues for next year and beyond, however. For now, the focus is firmly on Bradford and Diggs.