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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — That sprained left ankle was not about to spoil Teddy Bridgewater's first career start for the Minnesota Vikings.
"He's going to get an MRI," coach Mike Zimmer said, deadpanning, "but I told him he's fine."
Bridgewater didn't finish what he started, but he was good enough that his departure didn't matter. The rookie passed for 317 yards and a key 2-point conversion, and the Vikings rode a resurgent running game to beat the Atlanta Falcons 41-28 on Sunday.
"I was confident in the play calling. I was confident in the guys. And I felt that they were still confident in me," said Bridgewater, who completed 19 of 30 passes with no turnovers and ran five times for 27 yards and a touchdown.
His last carry came early in the fourth quarter with the Vikings trailing by a point. Bridgewater's left foot rolled when he tried to cut as he was taken down at the 1-yard line. Matt Asiata scored on fourth down, and Bridgewater stayed in to zip a crisp pass to Rhett Ellison for the 2-point conversion to push the lead to 35-28.
The first-round draft pick limped off the field and was taken for X-rays, which were negative. After the Vikings defense forced the Falcons to punt for a second straight time, Christian Ponder took over at quarterback. Minnesota moved into position for a 55-yard field goal by Blair Walsh, who was 4 of 5 on Sunday.
That put the Vikings up by 10, and Harrison Smith intercepted Matt Ryan on the next drive to seal the victory. Bridgewater was back on the sideline before the end of the game and in good spirits afterward. Zimmer's half-joking mandate that Bridgewater be ready to play the next game aside, the Vikings have only three days before they go to Green Bay on Thursday night.
Bridgewater, though, hasn't been fazed by much. Asked if he worried about the injury as he was driven away on the cart, he said, "Not at all."
Was there a point during the game when he settled down and became more comfortable?
"Actually, before the ball was even kicked off," a smiling Bridgewater replied.
His counterpart on the other side was impressed.
"He came out and played about as good as you could ask for," Ryan said.
The Falcons lost three offensive linemen to injuries and wound up sticking tight end Levine Toilolo at right tackle in the fourth quarter. Ryan was 25 for 41 for 298 yards and three touchdowns, but the defense let him down.
With pass protection a problem in recent weeks, Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner devised a plan with a heavy dose of quick drops for drag routes across the middle and screens to either side. The Vikings piled up 351 yards by halftime, a total higher than half of the teams in the league averaged over the first three weeks, and finished with 558 total yards. The Falcons had no sacks for the third time in four games.
"We're all in it together, win and lose," Ryan said. "Different games are going to shake out in different ways. Sometimes one group is going to be asked to carry the load. It's a long year."
Another Vikings rookie, Jerick McKinnon, rushed 18 times for 135 yards. Asiata had 20 carries for 78 yards and three touchdowns, and all of a sudden Adrian Peterson, on paid leave while the child-abuse charge against him is pending, was an afterthought.
Bridgewater dived head-first into the end zone to finish a 13-yard touchdown run for the first score of his career and a 21-14 lead in the second quarter.
"They did basically whatever they wanted to in terms of controlling the line of scrimmage. That is very alarming," Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Bridgewater had this game in control, too.
"He's always got the same demeanor. He's just amazing to be around, this kid is," Zimmer said. "I'm proud he's on my team."
NOTES: Jarius Wright led the Vikings with eight catches for 132 yards, both career highs. ... Along with G Justin Blalock (back), T Lamar Holmes (foot) and C Joe Hawley (knee), Falcons S William Moore (shoulder) was injured and didn't return.
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