MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings faced second-and-5 from the Los Angeles 30-yard line late in the first quarter Sunday when Case Keenum dropped back and came under heavy pressure.
The quarterback managed to evade linebacker Robert Quinn and ducked as linebacker Connor Barwin somehow slipped off him. And then, as he was about to take a hit from defensive tackle Michael Brockers, Keenum lofted the ball into the air.
It came down in Adam Thielen’s hands, a split second before cornerback Trumaine Johnson arrived, for a 12-yard gain to the Rams 18. Five plays later, Latavius Murray scored on an 8-yard run to tie the score at 7 in what became a 24-7 victory for the Vikings.
So Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had to be thrilled with his quarterback’s Houdini-like act to avoid the sack, right?
“Yeah, um, it was a good ending,” Zimmer said afterward showing little enthusiasm for the play.
Zimmer, who has called Keenum excitable in recent weeks, later elaborated on seeing his QB launch a pass that just as easily could have been intercepted. “I’m thinking a lot of things at that point,” he said. “But, he’s got a horseshoe right now.”
Keenum, who has guided the Vikings to seven victories this season and is 6-2 as the starter, completed 27 of 38 passes for 280 yards with a touchdown, no interceptions and a 100.8 passer rating on Sunday against his former team. The 29-year-old spent the past two seasons with the Rams organization, starting nine games last year before Jared Goff took over.
There has been much speculation in recent weeks whether the now-healthy Teddy Bridgewater would replace Keenum as the Vikings’ starter. Much of this has been driven by the Vikings coach, who has made it clear he has a plan for Bridgewater.
But with the Vikings sitting atop the NFC North and having won six in a row, making a change at this point would be very difficult.
“It changes,” Zimmer said when asked about The Teddy Plan. “It’s going to be hard to yank (Keenum) out of there right now. He’s playing good and I still have really high hopes for Teddy. A lot of things happen throughout the course of the season so we’ll just see how it goes.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for Keenum to be the starter beyond Thursday’s game in Detroit. Here’s the issue with Keenum: He has played better than anyone could have expected when he signed a one-year, $2 million free-agent deal last offseason and he deserves credit for doing a good job in the starting role.
But when Zimmer calls him excitable that isn’t a compliment and saying that Keenum has a horseshoe working for him also tells you plenty. NFL coaches don’t want excitable or perceived-to-be-lucky quarterbacks, they want quarterbacks they can trust to make the smart play and protect the football at all costs. The throw that Keenum made to Thielen looked great, but Zimmer knows that same play could easily go for a pick six in a playoff game against the Vikings.
That’s how season’s come to an abrupt end.
Zimmer certainly would expect Bridgewater to have some rust if and when he plays again, but one of the reasons why Zimmer likes Bridgewater so much is that he isn’t excitable and he will protect the ball. Zimmer feels he knows what he would get out of Bridgewater; you can tell he’s not so sure what Keenum will do next.
While Keenum had a shaky first half against the Ravens and Browns and then threw two terrible picks in the second half last week against Washington, he did put together more of a complete game on Sunday.
You have to credit his offensive line for that. With Rashod Hill starting in place of the injured Mike Remmers at right tackle, Keenum was not sacked for a remarkable sixth consecutive game. His ability to avoid pressure played a role in that, but this remade line has been fantastic.
Keenum raved about this line after the victory.
He also talked about dealing with the emotions of playing against his former team after admitting he had circled this game when he saw the Rams on the Vikings’ schedule.
“Late in the week, I went more toward this is just another game, another team, another really good football team,” Keenum said. “For me, at some point this week, I looked at what this means and what we’ve done. I don’t have to be anything but myself. If I put too much into this or if I try too hard, I hurt my teammates.”
Combine playing his former team with the uncertainty of not knowing if Bridgewater might replace him at some point soon, and Keenum had plenty to compartmentalize or simply tune out.
“I don’t listen to what is going on,” he said. “I don’t pay attention to a lot of those things that don’t matter to me, that don’t matter to how I play. I go out and do my job. Obviously, some of it filters in. 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. That if not fair to the rest of my team if I do that because I’m not my best if I’m using a percentage of my mind and worrying about other things.”