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Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

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It's early, but Cassel, Bridgewater reached some heights not seen in 241 previous preseason games

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated August 17th at 10:43pm 271585981

Who says preseason games are boring?

Let’s not get too carried away with last night’s 30-28 preseason victory over the Cardinals. Then again, let’s also not simply dismiss the record-setting play we saw from the quarterback position simply because it’s preseason, a time when opponents don’t game plan or show their most creative defensive schemes, or keep their best players on the field.

Yeah, the following are preseason passing records, but they’re worth noting and admiring since the Vikings have now played 242 preseason games since opening for business with a 38-13 loss to the Cowboys in Sioux Falls on Aug. 5, 1961:

. Teddy Bridgewater set a team preseason record for highest completion percentage (80.0) in a game with at least 20 passes. He went 16 of 20. The previous mark was 74.1 by Daunte Culpepper against the 49ers in 2004, the year Culpepper would have won league MVP if not for one of Peyton Manning’s finest seasons.

. Bridgewater and Matt Cassel also set a team preseason record by becoming the first pair of QBs to surpass a passer rating of 125.0 with at least 15 attempts apiece. Cassel started and had a rating of 125.3 on 16 attempts. Bridgewater finished and had a rating of 136.9. Christian Ponder didn’t play.

There also was this near record for Bridgewater:

. His 136.9 passer rating came within two-tenths of a percentage point of surpassing a team mark that has stood for 43 years. Bob Lee had a 137.0 rating against the Bears on Aug. 21, 1971.

After the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn’t announce his starting quarterback for the regular season opener in St. Louis. It will be Cassel, but why come out and name him at this point? Why not enjoy a competition that’s pushed the veteran Cassel to grab onto the job like an Adrian Peterson handshake? Why not enjoy the rookie Bridgewater bouncing back from a poor preseason opener and some rocky training camp practices to lead the Vikings from behind twice with pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes?

“The way they’re both playing right now,” said receiver Jarius Wright, “it’s easy to take your pick.”

The fact that Bridgewater played as well as he did and didn’t gain any ground on Cassel is a tribute to how well Cassel has learned Norv Turner’s offense and how comfortable he is with the talent around him.

And, as tight end Kyle Rudolph noted with a smile, “We have a lot of weapons. And we haven’t even shown our best weapon [Adrian Peterson] yet.”

The fact Bridgewater bounced back from a disappointing preseason opener is a tribute to his work ethic, Turner’s experience with all sorts of QBs the past 30 years and Zimmer’s approach with the rookie.

Zimmer can be a gruff, salty-tongued old-school coach who jumps on players in practice. But he also has shown that he’s got other pitches he can go to in his coaching repertoire. In this case, it was Zimmer who seemed to calm Bridgewater down by telling him the simplest of Pop Warner 101 coaching: “Just go out and have fun” and if he makes a mistake, they’ll correct it and move on.

“I’m a young guy and a lot has been thrown at me,” Bridgewater said. “I tend to overthink things. Coach Turner and Coach Zimmer always tell me to just do what you do best and that’s play football and have fun, so today I was able to go out and play relentlessly and not overthink plays and trust everything they’ve been telling me.”

So, yeah, it’s preseason. But after suffering through the three-headed QB fiasco that helped ruin last season, the Vikings and their fans should be excited about what they saw last night and the potential that was there both now and long-term.

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