It’s already been a long season for fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings, and the calendar still says it’s only September. The Jaguars find themselves one of just three winless teams in the National Football League (the other two are Tampa Bay and Oakland) and, in Sunday’s matchup of then-winless teams, they fell behind the Colts 30-0. At home.
Minnesota has been plagued by off-field controversy with star Adrian Peterson facing accusations of child abuse and sponsors (like Radisson) pulling their support of the franchise. Between the lines, things haven’t been much better for the Vikings. They’re 1-2 under new coach Mike Zimmer have dropped two straight.
Still, for a pair of franchises that have combined for just one playoff appearance since 2009, it’s safe to say the immediate future is about to get brighter. That’s because 2014 first-round picks Blake Bortles (third overall by Jacksonville) and Teddy Bridgewater (32nd overall by Minnesota) are taking over their respective teams for the foreseeable future. Bortles and Bridgewater will make their first career starts this weekend, and whether they ultimately prove successful in the near term or not, the young signal callers provide a welcome dose of what Jaguars and Vikings fans need more than anything else right now: hope.
Bortles was the first quarterback taken in the 2014 draft, and impressed with a solid preseason. The rookie completed 32 of 51 passes for 521 yards and two touchdowns in exhibition games, and was promoted to first string (ahead of incumbent Chad Henne) by head coach Gus Bradley at halftime of the team’s Week 3 game versus Indianapolis. In his first taste of regular season NFL action, Bortles went 14 of 24 for 223 yards with two scoring passes and two picks. He led three scoring drives in all for a team that hadn’t crossed midfield in the game before his entrance.
While many fans thought Bortles should have been the Day 1 starter, now that the team has indeed made the move from Henne to the first-year pro out of UCF, there is no turning back. Bradley admitted as much by naming Bortles the new starting QB in the postgame press conference, a slightly unorthodox move. Even though no one is expecting miracles over the next half dozen games — all against intra-conference foes — the No. 3 overall pick could bring a much-needed spark to a club that has lost its first three games by an average of 25 points per contest.
Bridgewater, the third quarterback selected in May after Bortles and Johnny Manziel, made his first NFL regular season appearance in relief of injured starter Matt Cassel at New Orleans Sunday. The Louisville product completed 12 of 20 passes for 150 yards in a 20-9 defeat, and will likely have every opportunity to keep the starting role if he plays well while Cassel nurses a broken foot. Bridgewater looked good in the preseason also, completing 30 of 49 passes and throwing five touchdowns against no interceptions.
The next task for Minnesota’s young quarterback? Games against Atlanta and at Green Bay in a five-day span. (Welcome to the NFL, rookie?) But still, what Bridgewater has shown in limited opportunities since the Vikings drafted him gives the team reason for hope, especially on an offensive unit that could need a playmaker with Adrian Peterson’s (at least immediate) future in Minnesota in doubt.
These two rookie quarterbacks, making their first starts in the same hour of the same day of the same year Sunday afternoon, will always be measured against each other (along with Manziel, Oakland starter Derek Carr, and the rest of the 2014 class). The good news remains for Vikings and Jaguars fans, though: if Bortles and Bridgewater live up to the hype — and their potential — both teams’ fan bases will have reason to cheer for the rest of 2014 and many years beyond.