MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings have been eager to see Teddy Bridgewater take back the job he lost to the devastating injury to his left knee.
With the way Case Keenum has been playing, well, this might be a long wait.
“It’s going to be hard to yank him out of there right now. He’s playing good,” coach Mike Zimmer said after Keenum and the Vikings defeated the Los Angeles Rams 24-7 on Sunday afternoon in a matchup of NFC division leaders. “I still have really high hopes for Teddy, and a lot of things happen throughout the course of the season, so we’ll just see how it goes.”
Keenum has started six and finished seven of Minnesota’s eight victories this year, after Sam Bradford was waylaid by left knee trouble following a convincing win over New Orleans in the opener.
Bridgewater wowed his coaches and teammates with his dedication to the comeback that began almost 15 months ago when he was badly hurt in practice right before the 2016 season was beginning. He returned to the active roster two weeks ago, with Bradford on injured reserve. Having received full medical clearance for game action again, the feeling around the Vikings has been that Bridgewater will start sooner than later. Keenum has 32 career starts, but he’s been a backup more than not.
Zimmer has stopped short thus far of declaring Keenum the permanent starter, preferring to announce his decision on a weekly basis. The head coach’s statement about his status, however, after Keenum went 27 for 38 for 280 yards and one touchdown against his old team made it clear as it’s been all year that the Vikings are comfortable riding him as long as his right hand is hot . Minnesota (8-2) has won six straight games.
“He’s the coach. It’s his decision. I’m here to play. So however he wants to do it, I’m here,” Keenum said. “I want to be the best player I can be for this team. So I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing every week and keep answering the same questions and just keep getting ready to play.”
Keenum went 4-5 as the starter for the Rams last year , before they turned to No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff and lost their last seven games. The Vikings, though, have given Keenum a much stronger supporting cast. He, in turn, has essentially saved the season after Bradford was sidelined.
“I know these opportunities don’t come along very often. I’m not going to sit around and worry and wait and try to figure things out,” Keenum said. “That’s not fair to the rest of my team if I do that, because I’m not at my best if I’m using a percentage of my mind and worrying about other things.”
Here are some other developments from the game:
Cooper Kupp could have made a significant difference in the final score and, perhaps, given the Rams enough momentum to win.
With the game tied at 7, the rookie wide receiver caught a third-and-4 pass from the 11-yard line over the middle and approached the goal line before Vikings safety Anthony Harris stripped the ball out and recovered the fumble at the 1 with 4:03 to go before halftime.
Early in the fourth quarter, on a third-and-10 play from the Minnesota 49, Kupp was open on a corner route that would’ve netted a lot more than just the first-down yardage, but he couldn’t hang on to Goff’s pass. Johnny Hekker came out for his fifth of six punts, and the Vikings went the other way for a two-touchdown lead.
“It’s tough,” said Kupp, the third-round draft pick from Eastern Washington. “Obviously, there’s plays I want back, plays I wish I would have made.”
Kupp is second on the team with 38 catches for 481 yards with three touchdowns.
“He makes smart plays and does more little things that go unnoticed,” Goff said, “and he can’t be down on himself.”
SHORT IN THE SECONDARY
Rams starting cornerback Kayvon Webster didn’t play after halftime because of a concussion. Nickell Robey-Coleman, the nickel cornerback, hurt his thigh in the second quarter and did not return. The Vikings took advantage of the depletion.
Cornerback Dominique Hatfield was covering Adam Thielen, when he turned a simple curl route into a game-sealing 65-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter by spinning past the undrafted rookie from Utah.
“You see why they have some great playmakers on the perimeter. They did a good job making plays today,” McVay said. “It certainly makes it difficult when you lose Nickell and you lose Kayvon, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in some of those younger corners to step up and contribute.”
FAITH IN FORBATH
One troubling trend for the Vikings was the two missed field goals by Kai Forbath, whose streak of 16 consecutive makes ended in the second quarter when a 48-yard attempt went wide right. His 39-yard try in the third quarter bounced off the left upright. Forbath made a 39-yarder in the fourth quarter, but until this game he’d only missed one 3-pointer all season.
“Nobody’s perfect. He’s helped us win games, and he’s a great player in this league,” Keenum said. “I have 100 percent confidence in him and will continue to have it.”
After capping the game-opening drive with a short touchdown run, Todd Gurley gained only 17 yards on 11 carries the rest of the way against a fierce Vikings defense. The league’s fifth-leading rusher entering the game had just 56 yards from scrimmage, his second-lowest total of the season.
“It’s just one of those games,” Gurley said. “We didn’t get it rolling. We played a great team.”
AP freelance writer Mike Cook contributed to this report.