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Vikings Roundup 12/15: Experiential Learning

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings second trip through NFC North opponents has led to closer results but not the ultimate goal.

There's value, however, in learning opportunities for a young roster of players and a coaching staff that is winding down its first season in Minnesota.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's team made a 29-point improvement the second time against the Packers last month, and Minnesota led Detroit until the final 3:38 of Sunday's game for a net improvement of 12 points.

The Vikings had two possessions to try to answer Matt Prater's go-ahead field goal, but was unable to capitalize.

Zimmer believes the experience gained by rookie Teddy Bridgewater in Sunday's scenarios will yield long-term benefits for the quarterback who has already tied a team record with four wins this season involving go-ahead or tying drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.

A season-ending injury to Matt Cassel in Week 3 accelerated Bridgewater's timeline for starting, but Zimmer thinks Minnesota has helped the quarterback handle the challenges better than teams have done with other rookie QBs over the course of Zimmer's career.

"Well I really think you learn best from playing. That's what I believe," Zimmer said. "I'm glad that he's playing. What I was nervous about at the beginning of the year was, because I know this guy's got a chance to be the guy for a long, long time here, and what I was nervous about at the beginning of the year is I didn't want to get him beat up, I didn't want to get him a bunch of bad outings where he didn't have that confidence and that attitude that he was going to do the things that he's doing and I think that things we're doing offensively are allowing him to do that."

Bridgewater opened the game on fire, completing 15 of his first 18 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown, but suffered consecutive interceptions on his final two attempts of the first half. He finished 31-of-41 passing for 315 yards (his second straight 300-yard passing game).

"One thing I do know about Teddy is he learns from a lot of the experiences he's had, and I expect him to continue to improve in those ways," Zimmer said. "I'm really glad that he's playing; I'm glad that we're keeping him upright. You can think back, and I know it's just my belief, you think back on some of the quarterbacks that had to play as rookies or have been playing as rookies and got the heck beat out of them and they haven't made it."

RHODES TESTED: Zimmer got to learn more Sunday about another recent first-round draft pick, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, when he assigned the second-year pro a matchup with Calvin Johnson. Rhodes was one-on-one with "Megatron" at times and had help at others but shadowed a receiver, albeit one of the toughest assignments in the business, for the first time in the pros.

"I thought he did well. I think the best thing about it is he accepted the challenge, he fought and competed," Zimmer said. "He wasn't alone all of the time, I mean, he was alone several times, and we helped him."

Zimmer said multiple factors led to the decision.

"I just felt like it was time to try it, we didn't really have anything to lose, and he'd been playing well," Zimmer said. "He'd been competing well and playing well. It was a good size matchup. I mean this guy (Johnson) is huge."

Rhodes helped limit Johnson to 53 yards on four catches, and the Vikings contained Johnson and free agent addition Golden Tate to a combined 91 yards for their lowest combined total this season.

KICKING IT: With one second left on the clock and the ball at midfield, Zimmer opted for Blair Walsh to try a 68-yard field goal instead of having Bridgewater heave a Hail Mary pass toward the end zone.

Walsh said Monday that he lobbied for the attempt, which would have trumped Prater's NFL record 64-yarder that was kicked in Denver last December. Walsh had been good in warmups from 70 yards using a kicking stand.

"No one's ever made a 68-yarder in a game, but I think it's one of those things where I think most guys in the game could give it a legit shot, and that's what we tried to do," Walsh said. "I was lobbying for it. I've never been one to care about percentages. I thought I could give my team a better chance by doing that than throwing a Hail Mary at the end of the game."

Walsh also had a 26-yard field goal attempt blocked in the fourth quarter when Lions defenders surged through the protection and Jason Jones deflected the ball about 3 yards on Minnesota's side of the line of scrimmage.

"They did a good job of penetrating on that play, and we'll get it shored up and get it fixed," Walsh said.

RUDOLPH'S SEASON HIGHS: Kyle Rudolph had season highs of seven catches for 69 yards against the Lions. It was the tight end's fifth game back from surgery that forced him to miss six games.

Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner said last week that Rudolph is "doing a nice job playing at less than 100 percent."

"I thought he looked better this week," Zimmer said. "This was the first week that I saw him in practice that he looked closer to what he is, and I do agree with Norv, he may not be 100 totally percent but I thought this week in practice, and in the game as well, he looked more like himself."

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