Column

Bridgewater’s Knee Was Broken; Not His Spirit

ATLANTA, Georgia — The gust of wind that swept over Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday night Aug. 12, might as well have been issued from a collective exhalation of people who were looking forward to a great comeback story. Rest easy: Teddy Bridgewater is back.

The Atlanta game was the first time Bridgewater had received prolonged NFL action in over two years.

Bridgewater entered the game with the Jets second-team offense, taking over at the Falcon’s 47-yard line. Early in the series, he completed an 8-yard pass to Robby Anderson while taking a monstrous hit by Takk McKinley.

For the briefest of moments, all the air in the stadium was vacuumed out. Then, as if nothing had ever been wrong with the 25-year-old before, Bridgewater popped back up unharmed.

A united sigh escaped, maybe unconsciously for some Falcons fans, then a cheer rang out.

At least merriment sounded throughout my living room.

“I was actually anxious to get hit, if anything because I wanted to get hit,” Bridgewater said in a post-game press conference. “It felt good getting hit again. For me, it was like the final step of the process. I got hit and got right back up, and it served as a reminder that the game’s still the same.”

His journey back to the NFL has been wrought with excruciating pain, a lengthy rehabilitation process and finding a new team that would give him a chance to display the skills he never lost. Through it all, Teddy Bridgewater never lost faith in God or himself.

Back on Aug. 30, 2016, he completely tore his left ACL in a non-contact play during the Minnesota Vikings’ training camp.

After collapsing on the practice field, 9–1–1 got called, and the quarterback was transported to Dallas, Texas to undergo multi-ligament reconstruction surgery. Without getting into all the macabre aspects, his knee dislocated and tore all the ligaments to where his lower leg basically detached from the upper.

There are no other cases like his in sports to compare notes on, and a sensationalist media speculated that he might lose the leg.

Of course, that didn’t that didn’t happen.

People who suffer an injury of this magnitude typically do not fully recover. At the very least, none have ever mended enough to return to professional sports.

But then, Teddy Bridgewater always knew he’d be a quarterback in the NFL again.

On the way back to Minnesota after a successful surgery, Bridgewater had already begun his rehabilitation.

One year to the day of his injury, Bridgewater tweeted an inspirational message that thousands retweeted and liked. It has become a message of inspiration and faith:

I never asked God why this happened to me, I’ve only told him thank you. A year later, he’s showing me why this happened to me.

Blessed.

— Teddy Bridgewater (@teddyb_h20) August 30, 2017.

In November of 2017, following a year rife with one of the most horrific injuries on record, and working tirelessly to come back, Bridgewater was reinstated to the Vikings 53-man active roster. The jubilation was short-lived. This triumph of human perseverance wasn’t greeted with a return to the starting job, nor even a place on the second team.

Case Keenum was well on his way to taking the 2017 Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs, and backup Sam Bradford hadn’t just come off a ghastly injury.

Bridgewater waited.

Then he watched from the sidelines as the Vikings ended the regular season at 13–3, won their Divisional Round against the Saints and then lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Conference Championship.

He had made a comeback, but it was on a somber note.

As the 2017 season ended, Case Keenum became a free agent, and Denver swooped in to gain his services. Then Sam Bradford signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals, which left Minnesota in a quandary.

The Viking’s 2018 quarterback choices were to go ahead and test the waters with Teddy Bridgewater or shop the free agency market. They opted for the latter, eventually finding former Redskin’s signal-caller, Kirk Cousins.

Time had come for Bridgewater to exit Minneapolis and find another team. Any team. Any place that would give him a chance to prove he could still play and produce as an NFL quarterback would be home.

Mar. 13, 2018, the New York Jets offered him a one-year contract. Bridgewater signed and shipped out of Minnesota to fill the number two spot on the Jets quarterback depth chart, behind Josh McCown.

During the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jets selected franchise quarterback hopeful, Sam Darnold, at the third overall pick. The California native had lit the collegiate world on fire during 2017 with the USC Trojans. Many reporters and journalists believed Darnold to be the best quarterback in a Draft laden with excellent prospects.

New York drafted Sam Darnold in hopes that he will become the player who pulls the Jets from the mire of perennially cellar-dwelling. The Jets didn’t draft Darnold to keep him on the bench for years on end.

So, Teddy Bridgewater found himself slowly drifting in-between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the starter’s job was Josh McCown’s to lose; on the other, Sam Darnold was chosen to change the fortunes of the Jets. And there in the middle stood a 25-year-old quarterback who hadn’t played any extended time since tearing his knee apart.

One thing Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t do is back down from a challenge. Nothing stopped him from getting in shape to where he was admitted back onto a 53-man roster. Nothing kept him in Minnesota when they passed him over for Kirk Cousins. And nothing will prevent him from trying to earn the starting role, even if the starting role happens to be with another team.

Here’s the deal with Bridgewater. As much as he is determined, he is humble. As much as he wants to lead, he will teach from the sidelines. It’s how men of God must act.

One of the most significant sights I’ve witnessed in sports was watching the first preseason game the Jets played in Atlanta. All three quarterbacks huddled together on more than one occasion. Teddy Bridgewater had come out of the game to allow Sam Darnold a chance to wet his feet. Once the Jets were on defense, the cameras switched to the Jets’ sidelines, and viewers got to see McCown and Bridgewater talking to Sam Darnold. It was apparent they were espousing their knowledge on the rookie. And Darnold was eating it up.

Yes, Teddy Bridgewater is in heated competition in New York, but he still has the class and decency to give help where and when assistance is desired for the team’s greater good.

Since the Jets drafted Darnold, numerous rumors have been floating around about trading Bridgewater before the start of the regular season. The theory is that if head coach Todd Bowles feels as though Sam Darnold has made enough progress throughout the preseason to earn the starting role, Teddy Bridgewater won’t be needed. Josh McCown would be a highly paid “coach” or a viable backup if Darnold faltered and was benched sometime during his rookie campaign.

If rumors are true, Teddy Bridgewater will become trade bait.

As you might have come to expect — he’s taken it in stride and has not stopped trying to become the Jets starting quarterback.

Thus far, various teams have blipped interest on the radar, but there have been no offers, yet. What’s been churning through the rumor mill is that some teams are interested in bringing Bridgewater onboard, but as a backup.

If an athlete has suffered a season-ending injury in the realm of professional sports, they will always be doubted and watched as though they’re about to reinjure themselves.

That’s the predicament Teddy Bridgewater has found himself in.

Think of it this way: A professional sports team hires you for a ridiculous sum of money. To the fans you are a new commodity that needs to entertain them; to the owners and coaches, you’re an investment which better begin generating currency quickly, i.e., produce wins, so fans will fill the seats and spend money.

After watching Teddy Bridgewater get hit and jump back up uninjured in the first preseason game versus Atlanta while going 7-of-8 for 85 yards with a touchdown — the Jets should hold off on trading him. He is the best quarterback they have, due to his play thus far in the preseason. Yes, Sam Darnold is the future of New York, else Bridgewater and Josh McCown would’ve been offered more than a one-year contract.

Though, following Week 2’s preseason game versus the Redskins, it became clear that Teddy Bridgewater had become the best option to start the regular season. He completed 10-of-15 passes for 127 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Meanwhile, Sam Darnold went 8-of-11 for 62 yards and an interception. And Josh McCown didn’t play a down.

The question is: Do Todd Bowles and the Jets management see Bridgewater in the same light?

If the Jets decide to give him the starting job, they’ll have a better quarterback than Josh McCown, and Bridgewater will be able to showcase his talents while Darnold gets more practice. Meaning, New York will likely win more games, and Bridgewater will bring more value when they decide to trade him.

What the Jets would get by keeping him is a rehash of Bridgewater’s career pre-injury. From 2014 through 2015 he had a record of 17–11 while completing 551-of-849 passes for 6,150 yards with 28 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and a passer rating of 87.0.

If he stays with the Jets and proves himself as a starter while staying healthy, Teddy Bridgewater can command a hefty sum on the trading block.

What I see in Bridgewater’s immediate future — if he does get traded before the regular season — is that he probably won’t start for another team right away either. Conversely, I can’t see him being placed lower than second-string after how this preseason has already gone for him.

All in, it’s likely the Jets part ways with Bridgewater before the regular season concludes. But in the interim, he can show his new yet to be named team what he’s got. Most importantly, he can prove that he can withstand the hard knocks an NFL quarterback must absorb to be successful.

The Jets host the New York Giants on Friday, Aug. 24 at 5:30 pm Eastern.

Todd Bowles has already stated that Sam Darnold will start the game against the Giants with the first team offense. Where this leaves Teddy Bridgewater is uncertain; what is certain is that he’s not about to quit adding to his incredible comeback story.

Teddy Bridgewater isn’t about to throw a pity-party for the hardships and transgressions of life; he won’t quit on himself because he knows God will never quit on him.

In the end, the only thing ever broken was his knee, and that was fixable. It’s now only a matter of time before Bridgewater finds a team that starts him.

 

 

Feature Photo: Brad Mills | USA Today Sports

Categories: Column