The margin in the NFL between winning and losing is so razor thin that even the slightest advantage – a penalty, the spot of the ball, one tick of the clock – here or there can make the difference. Extending an entire possession? That can be a major advantage, and that's why performance on 3rd down is such a critical variable in most games.
It should be no surprise, then, that part of the Vikings winning effort on Sunday against the Detroit Lions was a quality performance on 3rd downs, particularly by QB Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings converted 7 of their 14 (50%) 3rd down attempts, a rate high above the average, but it was also the manner in which they converted their 3rd downs that affected the outcome of several drives.
Here's a closer look at how Bridgewater made magic on 3rd downs and at how that helped push the Vikings to their first victory of the 2015 season.
The Situation: After three Adrian Peterson runs totaling 13 yards and then an incomplete pass, the Vikings were faced with a 3rd and 8 from their own 38.
The Play: Bridgewater took the snap and sat in a perfectly formed and protected pocket, but didn't find an open receiver. He drifted to his right to buy time, saw WR Jarius Wright breaking open toward the near sideline, and fired a laser to the fourth-year pass catcher. The completion netted 17 yards and extended the drive.
The Situation: Three more Peterson runs moved the ball down the field another 32 yards and the Vikings had another 3rd down on their hands – this time a 3rd and 3 from the DET 13.
The Play: Offensive coordinator Norv Turner dialed up a QB draw, which was executed perfectly by Bridgewater as he scampered for 8 yards to extend the drive once again.
The End Result: Two plays later, Bridgewater found TE Kyle Rudolph in the end zone for a 5-yard TD score to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead. a
The Situation: Leading 14-3 after a Detroit FG, the Vikings began a drive on their own 20. Peterson gained 4 yards on 1st down and Bridgewater found WR Charles Johnson for a 4-yard completion, leaving the Vikings with a 3rd and 2 from the MIN 28.
The Play: Bridgewater dropped back to pass as Peterson stepped up to take on a blitzing LB. Bridgewater was hit and began falling to the ground, but at the last moment flipped the football toward Peterson, who had turned around and was facing Bridgewater. After securing the football and gathering himself, Peterson darted to his right and turned on the jets for a 49-yard gain to the DET 23
The End Result: The Vikings would get as far as the DET 4, but had to settle for a 28-yard Blair Walsh FG.
The Situation: Marcus Sherels returned a Detroit punt 31 yards to the DET 34. Bridgewater hit Mike Wallace for 12 yards and the Peterson had an 11-yard rush. But two plays later the Vikings had a 3rd and 6 from the DET 7. Bridgewater dropped back to pass but eventually took off running. He scrambled for 6 yards to move the chains and extend the drive.
The End Result: Zach Line plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out two plays after the Bridgewater scramble to give the Vikings a 23-10 lead.
The Situation: DE Justin Trattou intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass to set the Vikings up with a possession that began on the DET 39. After losing a yard on 1st down and gaining 2 on 2nd down, the Vikings had a 3rd and 9 from the DET 38.
The Play: Bridgewater dropped back to pass and was protected nicely once again. He scanned the field and saw Mike Wallace coming across the middle of the field running from right to left. Bridgewater threaded the needle to Wallace, hitting the speedy WR for a 22-yard gain.
The End Result: After another 3rd down conversion moments later, the Vikings moved deeper into Lions territory but ultimately settled for another FG to increase the lead to 26-10.
All told on 3rd down, Bridgewater finished the game going 7 of 8 for 112 yards passing and also had 3 (non-kneel down) carries for 20 rushing yards, converting 6 of those 11 3rd down plays.