With the poise of a veteran, Teddy Bridgewater drove the Minnesota Vikings 79 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that put their game against Green Bay well within reach.
If only the rookie quarterback could have been that sharp in the first half.
The former University of Louisville star got off to a jittery opening in his first game against the Vikings' biggest rivals, missing open receiver after open receiver, and it cost them dearly in a 24-21 loss to the Packers on Sunday.
"I think I was just very excited being able to play the Green Bay Packers for the first time," Bridgewater said. "I just have to settle down and remain poised and just let the game come to me."
On Minnesota's final drive of the game, Bridgewater completed eight of 10 passes for 69 yards with a touchdown and a 2-point conversion throw that brought the Vikings (4-7) back to within a field goal with 3:23 to play. On his previous eight drives, he was 13-for-27 for 141 yards with one touchdown and one interception that led to a Packers TD.
The performance followed what has become a pattern for the first-round draft pick: start slow while missing open receivers on deep throws, calm down and play much better in the fourth.
"I didn't think he was as accurate as he normally is early in the ballgame," Coach Mike Zimmer said. "He had a couple of high throws. He had a couple of missed throws. He seems to settle down in the second half and kind of get more comfortable."
It started on the opening drive when receiver Charles Johnson, who starred in high school at Lloyd Memorial, was wide open down the field on third-and-7, but Bridgewater overshot him. His passes floated, fluttered and wobbled for most of the first half, particularly on one into double coverage down the Packers sideline in the second quarter that was intercepted by Micah Hyde near midfield.
Aaron Rodgers took advantage, quickly driving down the field before rolling right and throwing all the way back across the field to Richard Rodgers, who was all alone in the far corner of the end zone.
"With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, you want to sustain drives," Bridgewater said. "You don't want to give them a short field. Their offense is a high-powered offense and they're capable of scoring and taking advantage of your turnovers."
And yet the Vikings' defense kept the team in the game while Bridgewater tried to find his bearings.
The Packers (8-3) entered having scored 108 points in the previous two games and having only punted five times in past three. But they punted four times Sunday and Rodgers was held to 209 yards passing with two touchdowns, pedestrian numbers for the high-octane Packers.
But when the Vikings needed their defense the most, they couldn't quite come through.
After Bridgewater's 5-yard TD strike to Greg Jennings and 2-point pass to Johnson in the fourth, Zimmer elected to kick the ball deep rather than try an onside kick.
"I figured they were going to run the ball three times and I figured we could stop them," Zimmer said.
Eddie Lacy churned out two first downs, and the Packers were able to run out the clock. Lacy finished with 125 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
Johnson had three catches for 52 yards and a touchdown. But he was targeted 11 times, with Bridgewater missing him on multiple occasions. One that Bridgewater wish he had back came on third-and-9 from the Packers 33, when the defensive back fell and Johnson was wide open on a corner route. Bridgewater's errant throw made Johnson make a difficult adjustment, and the pass slipped through his hands to force the Vikings to settle for a field goal.
"Charles ran a great route and all I had to do is lay it out there and give him a chance to make the catch," Bridgewater said. "It was one of those plays we hit throughout the week in practice and today we just didn't get it."
■ It was a quiet afternoon for Randall Cobb (UK), who came into the game leading NFL wide receivers with 10 touchdowns. He had four catches for 58 yards.
■ Former Kentucky linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson made eight and six tackles, respectively, in the Tennessee Titans' 43-24 loss to Philadelphia Eagles. George Wilson (Paducah Tilghman) added three tackles.
Former Western Kentucky running back Antonio Andrews, the 2009 Mr. Football out of Fort Campbell, returned a kick 27 yards on his first play in the NFL. He also had a 20-yard kickoff return.
■ Corey Peters (UK) had three tackles in the Atlanta Falcons' 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Harry Douglas (Louisville) had two catches for 14 yards.
Cleveland got two catches for 23 yards from Gary Barnidge (Louisville).