EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Teddy Bridgewater's NFL experience — two games started and one relief effort prompted by injury — includes a successful first start and learning opportunities from his first loss.
The 2014 first-round pick is slated to start for the third time at noon (CT) Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings (2-4, 0-2 NFC North) visit the Buffalo Bills (3-3, 1-1 AFC East).
The top lesson Bridgewater learned in a loss to Detroit was repeated success with a decision in practice doesn't always translate to what he should do with the football during a game. Instead of Bridgewater throwing his first NFL touchdown pass on an attempt to Cordarelle Patterson, he suffered his first career interception (by Lions safety Glover Quin). It ended an efficient drive and Minnesota's attempt to tie the score at 7.
"You never want to turn the ball over in a football game. Turnovers kill drives, take away points, especially down in the red zone," Bridgewater said. "It was first down, ball on the 15-yard line; that was a time where I could have been much smarter in my decision making. I'm just going to continue to learn from the tape and move forward.
"I could have worked the inside guy, I believe it was Greg Jennings," Bridgewater added. "All week in practice, I got reps on just throwing the outside guy, I got a little complacent. That's where I just need to get back to the film room and just prepare for the worst-case scenarios."
In addition on where to go with the ball, Bridgewater said he wants to improve on the amount of time he takes to deliver it. He said Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner observed less hesitation when Bridgewater threw for 317 yards and no turnovers against Atlanta Sept. 28 in his starting debut.
"He mentioned that Atlanta game how I was just able to make decisions fast," Bridgewater said. "Get the ball out of my hands and allow our guys to make plays. That's going to be the message going into this game in Buffalo. We know that they have a pretty good front seven also. We know that we're going to be up for a challenge, but it's one that we are ready to go against."
The Lions were able to sack Bridgewater eight times for a combination of factors from the delay in delivery to a lapse in protection to facing more third-and-long and trailing-late-in-the-game pass situations than a team wants to face against Detroit.
The Bills have 19 sacks this season, including five by DT Marcell Dareus (tied for sixth in the NFL), 4.5 by DE Mario Williams (eighth) and four by DE Jerry Hughes (tied for ninth), who were picked third, first and 31st in their respective drafts.
"We've got to block their defensive front, that's a big one," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "We've got to make sure that we do a better job of getting open with the receivers."
Zimmer said the play of Dareus and Hughes has added to the effectiveness of Williams and DT Kyle Williams, a two-time Pro Bowler.
"That's the thing that people forget is sometimes some of these young guys like Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes, they start getting better as they get in," Zimmer said. "Sometimes it takes a little bit longer than you want, and I know we have a lot of young guys and probably takes a little longer than I want at times too, but sometimes patience is a virtue."
If sacks and pressure on a quarterback have collective blame, there's also shared responsibility for improved protection.
Rushing and receiving stats are often the most conspicuous aspect of the running back position, but pass protection is a prerequisite for getting on the field, Zimmer said.
"In today's NFL, if a running back does not know who to block in pass protection he is not very good because he's going to get your quarterback killed," Zimmer said. "I know when I was with [Bill] Parcells, he told the team every year at the beginning of camp that he can't put rookies in the game if they don't know how to protect or who to protect because they'll get the quarterback killed."
Rookie Jerick McKinnon started against Detroit Sunday as he and Bridgewater became the first rookie tandem in franchise history to start at RB and QB since Tommy Mason and Fran Tarkenton in the team's inaugural season of 1961.
McKinnon led the Vikings with 40 rushing yards on 11 carries and 42 receiving yards on six catches but said he can continue to improve his technique in pass protection. He said review of film showed Buffalo players doing "a lot of different things."
"Sometimes they have the linebacker come, they might have the safety come off the back side," McKinnon said. "As an offense, running backs, tight ends, however the protection is called, we've got to be ready for those things, make sure we see it pre-snap and be there when it comes."