EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings 2014 season is in the books, and so is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's first year in the pros.
Bridgewater's opportunity to start was accelerated early when veteran Matt Cassel suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 3, giving the 22-year-old a chance to learn by doing.
His season included several highlight plays, game-winning drives and moments during which he could show leadership that is advanced beyond his years and a demeanor that can handle adversity.
Bridgewater set franchise records for a rookie quarterback in wins (six), starts (12), passer rating (85.2) and completion percentage (64.4). The completion percentage is the third highest by a rookie in NFL history, behind Ben Roethlisberger's 66.4 in 2004 and Robert Griffin III's 65.6 in 2012.
"It's a pretty cool stat, but I've always been a person who's been more about team success," Bridgewater said Monday when the Vikings were cleaning out their lockers at Winter Park. "I could care less about my completion percentage. The goal this year was to make the playoffs and the ultimate goal is to always win the Super Bowl. From the numbers I put up individually, or Greg Jennings or Jarius Wright, those things won't mean a thing come next year, because everything we did this year doesn't matter anymore. Nothing in this league stays the same, and teams are going to get better."
Several of Bridgewater's stats mirrored his first season in Louisville:
As Bridgewater pointed out, things will change, but if the progress he showed his final two seasons at Louisville is an indicator, the Vikings will be in great shape at the position.
Bridgewater's completion percentage escalated to 68.5 percent with 27 touchdown passes and eight interceptions in his second season, and to 70.9 percent with 31 scoring passes and four interceptions in his final season with the Cardinals.
View images from the Vikings locker room on Monday as players packed up their things to head home for the offseason.
Success at the position goes beyond statistics, but Bridgewater impressed teammates with other aspects.
"I think it's no secret in the NFL that quarterback is a big deal," safety Harrison Smith said. "It's what they talk about on TV all day, so having that position, having a guy like Teddy, who has all the tools to do it, who has the mindset, he's got the way guys feel about him, he's not a guy that's not doing things off the field, it's huge."
Smith said Bridgewater reinforced the reputation that preceded his arrival in Minnesota.
"That was kind of his (mode of operation) that everybody heard, but you don't really believe it until you see it, especially at the next level," Smith said. "He really came in, and not that he's cocky at all, but he just has a calmness about him where he's confident."
Bridgewater told Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall an example of his increased comfort was a completion to Jennings on a corner route Sunday against Chicago. Bridgewater delivered accurately beyond Bears free safety Ryan Mundy and under cornerback Tim Jennings for a 20-yard gain a play after a 31-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels to help put Minnesota in position for its final field goal.
"Seven-eight weeks ago, I wouldn't have thought about making that throw," Bridgewater said. "It was just one of those situations where it showed a lot of growth and maturity."
Bridgewater said he is excited about applying what he learned in Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner's system this season going forward so the Vikings can push toward the playoffs.
"We don't want to be satisfied with winning only seven games around here," Bridgewater said. "The expectation level is pretty high. Next year, around this time, we don't want to be cleaning out our lockers and booking flights and heading out. We want to be getting ready for the Wild Card game or sitting at home with home-field advantage. We didn't meet our goals, but there's a lot of takeaways from the season."