CINCINNATI — The butterflies ironically may have hit the veteran the hardest.
John Sullivan, who has 93 starts under his belt and is preparing for his ninth pro season, said he encountered them before the Vikings opened the preseason with a 17-16 win against the Bengals on Friday night.
It was Sullivan's first time playing in a game in nearly a year. He played in the Hall of Fame Game against Pittsburgh on Aug. 9, 2015, and against Tampa Bay the following Saturday before being sidelined for the whole season with a back injury.
"I'm happy to be healthy and out there playing," Sullivan said. "You always have a little bit of nerves, but it felt good to go play against another team."
Sullivan and Nick Easton have taken reps at center with the first team during camp, but with Brandon Fusco out, the Vikings started Berger at right guard and opened with the combination of LT Riley Reiff, LG Pat Elflein, Sullivan, Berger and RT Andre Smith.
Quarterback Stefon Diggs faced pressure on all three plays of the Vikings first drive. One resulted in a short completion, one resulted in a likely sack and the third was a purposeful incompletion, the third-year pro's only incomplete pass of the night.
The completion occurred after Bridgewater stiff-armed Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins to elude a sack.
"I was trying to tell Geno Atkins to calm down a little bit, but it just happened," Bridgewater said with a laugh.
The second drive started at the Minnesota 4-yard line, and Jerick McKinnon escaped a near safety in the end zone for a gain of 10. The group helped overcome early mistakes in the drive that covered 96 yards and ended with the 49-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Charles Johnson after the Vikings converted three third downs.
"It was nice — a great way to cap that drive," Sullivan said. "Obviously we had a couple of hiccups that we were able to overcome, which is important because that's going to happen in the course of a game, and to cap it off that way, it was a great ball by Teddy and a great route by Charles."
The Vikings second-team unit was: LT Anthony Harris, LG Danielle Hunter, C Nick Easton, RG Zac Kerin and RT Jeremiah Sirles.
Teddy flirts with passing perfection
Bridgewater finished the evening 6-of-7 passing for 92 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown to Charles Johnson, for a maxed-out passer rating of 158.3 (20 attempts are required for it to count).
Last preseason, Bridgewater was 29-for-35 for 295 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 111.3.
Bridgewater kept composure and converted three third downs with passes to Jerick McKinnon, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The dart to Thielen had a high degree of difficulty.
The Vikings used a three wide receiver set of Johnson, Thielen and Diggs a couple of times.
"I had an opportunity to go across there, and Teddy threw a good ball," Thielen said. "It's one of the things where you have to come down with it if he's going to throw it to you.
"For some reason, I kind of figured it was coming to me," he added. "He put it in a great spot, so it was pretty hard to drop it."
Bridgewater was less focused on the deep pass, which was 10 yards longer than the longest completion of the 2015 Vikings preseason, and more aware of the totality of the drive.
"The good thing about that drive, we got to work different situations," Bridgewater said. "We got to work some coming-out plays, a coming-out package, and we had some big third downs. That's what kind of gets those drives going. You convert third down on a backed-up situation, and you kind of get the momentum, get your rhythm, and the guys did a great job of just executing."
Shaun Hill led the Vikings on a drive that ended with a 51-yard field goal by Kevin McDermott and finished the night 6-of-7 passing for 52 yards. He was replaced by rookie Joel Stave, who went 8-for-13 for 76 yards with an interception off a tipped pass.
Stave led Minnesota on 10-play drive that lasted nearly six minutes in the third quarter and ended with a 10-yard touchdown run by C.J. Ham.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said this week that he wanted to have game film as an assessment tool for the safeties who are vying for the spot alongside Harrison Smith.
Andrew Sendejo, who started all of the 13 games he played in 2015, recorded two tackles while playing very limited reps.
Antone Exum, Jr. totaled three tackles, including a sack late in the game and a pass defensed.
Jayron Kearse recorded an interception that help seal the Vikings victory and added five tackles, rounding out an impressive night for the Vikings 2016 draft class.
Michael Griffin added a tackle and did a nice job of batting the ball down near the line of scrimmage.
Anthony Harris did not play.
View images of the Vikings first preseason victory at Paul Brown Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Stats that stood out
Here are three stats that stood out:
1-14-1: Breakdown of first downs obtained by the Vikings, who were awarded 14 first downs by passing, and one each by rushing and by penalty. Cincinnati's breakdown was seven by rushing, 11 by passing and one via penalty.
1:43: Time of possession for Minnesota in the first quarter. Bridgewater was 1-of-2, and the Vikings had one net yard in the period. The Vikings rebounded, however, and finished the game with a time of possession of 28:31.
5 and 8: The Vikings recorded five tackles for loss and eight pass breakups, compared to four and one, respectively by the Bengals.
Bridgewater was joined by fellow 2015 captains Riley Reiff and Everson Griffen for the coin toss.