Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is expected to miss at least the next season while recovering from a dislocated left knee and torn anterior cruciate ligament after a freak practice injury on Tuesday.
Bridgewater was taken by ambulance to a hospital after crumpling to the turf during practice, and the team announced hours later that his knee also had "other structural damage" that will need to be repaired in a surgery that will be scheduled in the coming days. But the team did say he had no nerve or arterial damage and it expects a full recovery after a "significant" rehabilitation.
"Teddy has already displayed the attitude needed to overcome this injury and attack his rehab," said Eric Sugarman, the director of sports medicine and head athletic trainer for the Vikings.
Bridgewater suffered a non-contact knee injury while dropping back to pass, and it was so jolting that coach Mike Zimmer immediately ended practice. Players were visibly distraught as they left the field, some hurling expletives into the air and others kneeling in prayer for one of the team's most popular players. Moments later, a siren-blaring ambulance rushed to team headquarters to get the quarterback to the hospital.
It was a somber scene for a shaken franchise, one that reported to training camp with designs on a Super Bowl run.
"Sometimes the worst things happen to the best (people)," Vikings receiver Jarius Wright tweeted. "God has a plan."
About 2½ hours after the injury, Zimmer tried to straddle the line between expressing concern for a beloved teammate and keeping the rest of his team from losing focus and confidence.
Zimmer addressed the team in full and was clearly upset for Bridgewater, a player he quickly bonded with after he was drafted in the first round in 2014. But he also tried to steer the team's focus back to the field as the players prepare for their preseason finale against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night and the season opener at Tennessee on Sept. 11.
"I'm not going to let this team feel sorry for itself," Zimmer said before the full details of his injury were known. "We're going to grieve today and be upset about it. It's more about our feelings for Teddy and him as a person and getting better than it is about anything else. Teddy's a great kid and he'll be back as soon as he possibly can if it is real bad. But we're going to keep fighting."
Zimmer said he spoke to Bridgewater's mother several times to keep her updated, had some phone conversations with mentor Bill Parcells and even talked "in spirit" to his father Bill, an ex-coach who died last summer, about how to best handle the situation.
"We're not going to stick our heads in the sand, we're not going to tuck our (tail between) our legs," Zimmer said. "We're not looking for excuses. We're going to go out and fight like we always do."
There is little behind Bridgewater on the depth chart. Shaun Hill is the primary backup, but he's 36 years old and has played only sparingly over the last five years. Taylor Heinicke, last year's No. 3 quarterback, has been out all preseason with an injury, and undrafted rookie Joel Stave has struggled mightily at times during practices.
Hill started eight games for the Rams in 2014, throwing eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Other than that, he has thrown a total of 23 passes dating back to 2010.
"I have confidence in Shaun," Zimmer said. "I think he's played great this preseason. He's been in 2-minute drills. He's done a phenomenal job."
The Vikings were counting on Bridgewater to take some major steps forward after a promising start to his career. He helped lead the Vikings to the NFC North championship last season as more of a game manager, but Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner had said they expected him to be much more of a playmaker in 2016.
Bridgewater missed the second preseason game with a sore shoulder, but was sharp Sunday against San Diego. He went 12 for 16 for 161 yards and a touchdown in two quarters of work.
"We're not going to stick our heads in the sand. We're going to figure out a way," Zimmer said. "Everybody can count us out if they want, but I think that'd be the wrong thing to do."
Zimmer said he has already had preliminary discussions with general manager Rick Spielman about adding another quarterback if necessary, but the injury likely puts even more emphasis on Adrian Peterson and the running game.
The determined coach rattled off the names of 10 players that would be key to the team's success in 2016, driving home his point that "this isn't a one-man deal."
"I can go down the line," Zimmer said, "and I'll take them with me into an alley anywhere."