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Bridgewater impresses in Vikings’ victory over Arizona

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By Chris Tomasson

St. Paul Pioneer Press

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Matt Cassel had vowed that a good performance Saturday night could wrap up the Vikings’ starting quarterback job.

Cassel didn’t hurt himself while playing the first half. However, the Vikings also got an impressive second-half showing by rookie Teddy Bridgewater in a 30-28 win over Arizona at TCF Bank Stadium.

Cassel completed 12 of 16 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. But Bridgewater then completed 16 of 20 passes for 177 yards and threw the game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Smith with 18 seconds left.

It looked as if the Vikings might lose in dramatic fashion when Cardinals running back Zach Bauman ran in a fumble from 10 yards out with 1:11 left in the game following a wild scramble. Third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley had fumbled the snap on 4th-and-goal and Bauman eventually picked it up.

But Bridgewater then led the Vikings on a dramatic game-winning drive. He completed 5 of 6 passes for 83 yards on it.

Bridgewater also had thrown a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Allen Reisner that put the Vikings up with 7:57 left in the game.

Cassel had by far the better performance in Minnesota’s first preseason game. But now the two will play in the third preseason game next Saturday at Kansas City with the starting job possibly on the line.

“I have to go out and perform and if I do that, then I plan on being the Week 1 starter,’’ Cassel had said prior to Saturday’s game.

For the preseason, Cassel has completed 17 of 23 passes for 215 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Yes, he did a good bit of his work in Saturday’s second quarter against Arizona’s second-string defense, but it was an impressive showing nevertheless.

Cassel ran or passed for 185 of Minnesota’s 199 total yards in the first half. He’s seeking to be the starter in the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at St. Louis.

Cassel sprayed the ball around to six different receivers. His favorite target was Kyle Rudolph, who had four catches for 89 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown catch that put Minnesota up 10-7 early in the second quarter.

Playing before a sellout crowd of 51,763, Cassel also led the Vikings (2-0) to a pair of first-half field goals by Blair Walsh, who connected from 21 and 34 yards. Walsh also made a 21-yarder in the second half. But he missed a 51-yard attempt in the first half, making him 0-of-2 in the preseason from 50 yards and beyond.

The Vikings trailed 14-13 entering the second half, when Cassel gave way to Bridgewater. The Cardinals took a 21-13 lead early in the third quarter on a 2-yard run by Robert Hughes.

In the game’s final two minutes and trailing 24-21, the Cardinals had first-and-goal at the Minnesota 6 following a 33-yard pass interference penalty on Derek Cox. On fourth down, the wild play happened that resulted in the touchdown by Bauman.

The Vikings didn’t use star running back Adrian Peterson, who sat out for a second straight week for precautionary reasons. Because of that, it wasn’t surprising that Minnesota’s running backs struggled much of the night.

But deep reserve Joe Banyard did break loose for a 56-yard run in the third quarter. Banyard also had a 44-yard kickoff return in the first half.

Minnesota’s defense was uneven. The Vikings gave up 320 yards, including 224 through the air.

The push rush, though, had its moments. Defensive end Everson Griffen, trying to show he is worth the five-year, $42.5 million contract he got last March, had three quarterback pressures. Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr had a sack that forced a fumble. Arizona recovered it, but Barr now has 1½ sacks in his first 1½ preseason games.

On defense, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was most concerned with getting a look at several players at strong safety, a job that is wide open. Chris Crocker started and Kurt Coleman also played in the first half. In the second half, Zimmer looked at Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo.

Other than quarterback and strong safety, the only other starting spot that looks to still be up for grabs is at middle linebacker. Jasper Brinkley got the start and Audie Cole, trying to beat him out, also saw plenty of action.

In addition to Peterson, other Vikings sitting out were cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring), tight end Chase Ford (broken foot) and Linval Joseph. Joseph suffered a minor calf injury Aug. 9 when he was grazed by a bullet as an innocent bystander during a shooting at a Minneapolis nightclub.

Fred Evans got the start for Joseph, who could get into a preseason game but at least is expected back for the regular-season opener. Rookie Shamar Stephen also saw some snaps with the first team.

On special teams, other than Baynard’s kickoff return, Minnesota’s big play was cornerback Marcus Sherels returning a punt 32 yards in the first half. Sherels, who played at the University of Minnesota and missed the preseason opener due to a hamstring injury, was playing his first NFL game on his old college field.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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