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BALL FIVE: Maybe I spoke too soon about replacing Keenum

Last week I said I was cheering for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to make his triumphant return to the team, lead them to the Super Bowl and be the subject of a movie. I still hope it happens, but it doesn’t have to come about soon. It doesn’t even have to happen this season, for that matter.
After Sunday’s 24-7 dismantling of the Los Angeles Rams, the Vikings are 8-2 and proudly sitting atop the NFC North Division. They lead the Lions, who they play in the opening game of the NFL’s Turkey Day extravaganza.
There is this guy named Case Keenum who just keeps leading the Vikings to victory. He’s doing it every week. Right now, Keenum looks like a guy capable of leading his team through a long playoff run. I know, I find it hard to believe, too. Maybe that’s because the football pundits tell us he shouldn’t be as good as he is, or that he can’t keep being as good as he’s been lately.
Right now, I’m not so sure.
Remember back in week one when Sam Bradford threw for three touchdowns and nearly 350 yards as the Vikings ran all over the Saints? He looked like the quarterback the entire football world has been waiting to see ever since he was drafted first overall by the Rams back in the 2010 draft. But, as always has been the case with Bradford, the bum knee acted up. In came Keenum for week two against the Steelers. The Vikings got whipped and every fan in the Northland wept for another season gone awry.
Keenum looked like a star with 369 yards and three touchdowns in the week three win over the Buccaneers, but the next week, star rookie running back Dalvin Cook blew his knee out, the Vikings lost three fumbles and fell 14-7 to the Lions. Keenum was as mediocre as the entire team in that loss.
Things did not look that much better in Chicago until the second half when Keenum took over for Bradford (the knee had not healed) and led the Vikings to a 20-17 win. The following week, thanks to the Purple People Eaters and namely linebacker Anthony Barr for breaking Aaron Rodgers and ruining the Packer season, the Vikings won again. That was followed by wins over the Ravens and Browns that were good but not overly impressive performances.
And then a healthy Bridgewater was back with the team. How did Keenum respond? Simply by engineering a road win over Washington with four touchdown passes, followed by leading the Vikings to a win over a team that nearly everyone from Terry Bradshaw to Peter King had predicted was not going to happen.
Suddenly all the same pundits and prognosticators who were calling for Bridgewater are now clamoring for Keenum. And why not? Keenum has the second highest QBR (total quarterback rating) in the league, trailing only injured Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. He has the league’s highest QBR against the blitz. On Sunday, the Rams blitzed a season-high 20 times. On those plays, Keenum was 15 for 20 for 191 yards and a touchdown. He simply does not get sacked either. The Vikings have given up only 10 sacks this year and only one in the last four games.
But, let’s not forget what is maybe the realest of real reasons that the Vikings are 8-2 and looking like a Super Bowl contender. It’s the guys who line up when the opponent has the football.
Man, that Vikings defense is fun to watch play. The defense, led by the wizardry of head coach Mike Zimmer, has stars at every level. The Vikings stop the run, they cover receivers, they chase quarterbacks like bullies on the playground.
Here’s what the Vikings did to the Rams, the team considered by many to have the best offense in the NFL. The Rams came into Minnesota on a four-game win streak, having scored 144 points in those games. After the Rams went 65 yards for a touchdown on their opening drive, they only had one sniff of the end zone the rest of the game. That drive ended with the Vikings forcing a turnover. The Rams came into Sunday leading the league with a 46.7 percent third down conversion rate. The Vikings held them to three of 11, and more important than that, the Vikings held the Rams to zero third down conversions from 7:01 in the second quarter until there were 45 seconds left in the game. And that, that, is why the Vikings beat up on a team that came in scoring more than 30 points per game. I could go on and on about the defense, but looking up the page, I’ve already gone on and on.
I’ll leave it at this. The Vikings will be just fine with Keenum at quarterback. If he falters, the Vikings will be just fine with Bridgewater behind center. This is an all-around team. The offensive line is revamped and playing stunningly well. Along with Sunday’s passing game, the Vikings ran for 170 yards against a defense that is ranked as one of the league’s best against the ground game. When they throw the ball, they have sudden superstar Adam Thielen, and a bunch more top-notch receivers, and they have that defense.
Man, all his rambling and prating will look a lot better if the Vikings can knock off the Lions tomorrow.