Commentary: Don't call it a Vikings' quarterback controversy -- not right now
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.—It's Case. Closed. For now, anyway.
Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer made the obvious and prudent announcement Wednesday that Case Keenum would start Sunday's NFC showdown against the upstart Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Teddy Bridgewater survived his left knee exploding on the practice field, fears of amputation and 14 months of grueling rehabilitation; he can wait at least another week before the Vikings consider starting him for his first meaningful game since Blair Walsh plunged an ice pick into their wild-card hearts in January 2016.
The Vikings might be Teddy's team in spirit, but the quarterbacking job is Keenum's in practice, and the journeyman deserves to keep it until his play no longer warrants his claim.
Keenum's haphazard body of work over five NFL seasons suggests that bottom could drop out at any moment. The floorboards started creaking in the second half against Washington when he tarnished a four-touchdown performance with two ghastly but ultimately benign interceptions that only fueled the social media mania for Teddy's return.
Keenum has been looking over his shoulder since Bridgewater was activated off the physically unable to perform list. Now he has to wonder whether he has to play perfectly to retain his job.
"I'm trying to win ballgames; I'm doing the best I can," Keenum said Wednesday. "That's showing up every day and doing my job. That's protecting the football and learning from my mistakes. All that (other) stuff is storylines for you to talk about, so I don't pay attention to it."
You cannot help but root for Bridgewater to claim his second chance at an NFL career, especially after watching him shed tears of joy on the bench at FedEx Field when he finally suited up again.
Still, nobody knows how Bridgewater's knee will respond when he plants and tries to escape from that first blitzing linebacker or 300-pound defensive end closing in on his blindside. The Vikings are sitting pretty at 7-2 with a two-game lead in the NFC North. This is no time for feel-good experiments.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has done a superb job spot-welding Sam Bradford's pocket-passing schematics to fit Keenum's less precise but more mobile skill set behind an aggressive offensive line that has turned around remarkably.
Their passing attack is diverse and difficult to defend, with the athletic and sure-handed Adam Thielen emerging as an NFL star capable of beating defenses to the ball and the first-down marker with every touch. And if the Vikings aren't running as productively as when Adrian Peterson was punishing defenses, they're rushing with purpose again behind Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
Not since Brett Favre was slinging golden horseshoes in 2009 has a Minnesota offense looked so dynamic and dangerous. That Keenum is leading the attack speaks to the balance Shurmur has been able to leverage.
Lest anyone forget, Bridgewater was an average quarterback in 2015 playing behind a porous offensive line — a clutch third-down passer on the rise, maybe, but not Tom Brady. He was robbed of his prove-it season in 2016 and now faces unfair expectations as Minnesota's franchise quarterback.
There is plenty of time for all that. Just not this week.
Not with Keenum playing with the poise and confidence of a quarterback who has notched six wins in place of Bradford. And not with him facing the team that benched him after nine games a year ago in favor of No. 1 overall draft choice Jared Goff, who has transformed the Rams into the NFL's most prolific offensive team.
This is a season-defining four-game stretch for the Vikings, who are attempting to become the first team in the Super Bowl era to qualify for the game in their home stadium. They face the high-octane Rams followed by division nemesis Detroit in Motown on short rest Thanksgiving Day. A three-game road stretch includes a trip to defending NFC champion Atlanta and contending Carolina.
If Keenum completely falls apart and Bridgewater is called upon to salvage the season, temper your expectations.
Right now, Keenum gives the Vikings their best chance to win while Bridgewater's return to the roster gives them hope for more clarity at the position in 2018, after Bridgewater has had a full offseason and minicamps to strengthen his knee and sharpen his focus.
We live in a world of absolutes, especially in these toxic political times. You're either with me or against me. Rooting for Keenum to succeed does not discredit Bridgewater's incredible journey back to the field.
"If you're looking at it that way and whose team this is, you're looking at it the wrong way and don't get to appreciate what these guys have done to get to where they are today," said tight end Kyle Rudolph.
The Vikings aren't at the quarterback crossroads.
For now, anyway.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service