NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (2-10) at Minnesota (5-7)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Minnesota Vikings fans would surely concede Teddy Bridgewater is not Peyton Manning. But the Vikings' rookie can soothe himself by recognizing that he's also not Geno Smith.
Unlike his signal-calling counterpart for Sunday's game at TCF Bank Stadium, the youngster from Louisville is not only playing well as the 2014 season reaches its final stages, but there's also a very good chance - unlike Smith in New York - that he's already penciled in for a starting job next year.
Bridgewater has four touchdowns against a single interception in his last two games, and played perhaps his best game of the season last week against Carolina - completing 15-of-21 passes for 138 yards, two scores and a 120.7 passer rating in a 31-13 defeat of the Panthers.
"I'm better at just making quicker decisions," he said. "Earlier in the year, I talked about getting rid of the ball faster. That wasn't the issue. I think I just made quicker decisions, and if I'm able to make quicker decisions I'm able to get the ball out faster."
One of his prime targets, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, should be around for the full 60 minutes against the Jets after having just one pass thrown to him last week. He only played three snaps against Carolina after attending a funeral during the practice week and dealing with a knee injury.
He caught six passes for 86 yards in Minnesota's Week 8 defeat of Tampa Bay, but has caught just five balls since for 51 yards. He's got 30 catches for 350 yards and one touchdown this season, after arriving as a rookie in 2013 and catching 45 passes for 469 yards and four TDs.
"I have high hopes for him. I'm in his corner. I want him to be a good player," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "It would help this football team. It would help me. It would help everybody around that he becomes a great player. It may be not right away."
Meanwhile, though history shows the Jets last lost to the Vikings when Gerald Ford was president and Joe Namath still played at Shea Stadium, it doesn't do a lot of good for modern-day Rex Ryan.
A 16-13 loss to Miami on Monday night plunged New York to 2-10 in Ryan's sixth season and added another layer of certainty that the last four games of 2014 will be his last four at Gang Green's helm.
"I'm embarrassed for myself, absolutely," he said.
"It's an embarrassment. It's definitely embarrassing to me. I feel like I've let my owner down. I've let our fan base down. The year hasn't gone anywhere close to what we were thinking. I'm going to focus on beating Minnesota. I'm not worried about anything else but that. I don't think that way. My job is not to worry about myself. My job is to get this team prepared to the best of my ability, and that's what I plan on doing."
Ryan's teams reached the AFC Championship Game in his first two seasons on the job in 2009 and 2010, winning four road playoff games with Mark Sanchez at the helm. They've not had a winning record since, however, and Sanchez was let go in the offseason after Smith became the rookie starter last year.
Sanchez is now quarterbacking the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles, while Smith, backup Michael Vick, Ryan and even general manager John Idzik are on a collective hot seat with the Jets.
Smith completed only seven of 13 passes in the loss to the Dolphins, a game in which New York led by 10 points in the first half. The Jets ran the ball 49 times, but when they were forced into rally mode on a final drive, Smith was intercepted - which led to talk that the game plan reflected an absence of faith in the quarterback. Ryan insisted, though, that the run/pass ratio was not a reflection on Smith.
The second-year man, who was benched in favor of Vick before regaining the job, is last in the league among full-time quarterbacks with a 65.8 passer rating. He's thrown 11 interceptions and has averaged 5.91 yards per pass attempt, and hasn't thrown a TD pass in three games. Incidentally, the Vikings are sixth in the league in defending the pass, but have allowed 123.8 yards per game on the ground for the season and 157.0 per game over their last three outings.
"I understand the fact that we didn't win and the passing attempts weren't there," Ryan said. "But it had nothing to do with us not having confidence in Geno Smith. That's completely false."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Running back Chris Johnson was among the symbols of the Jets' ineptitude in the early season as he tried to regain his 2,000-yard form from his days in Tennessee. But he's started to pick things up in the second half and has amassed 305 yards on his last 58 carries - a 5.3-yard average per attempt. Minnesota is 24th of 32 teams against the run, so it could be another showcase for the veteran.
Strength against Weakness
The Vikings are by no means a scoring juggernaut when compared to the rest of the NFL, as an average of 19.4 points per game accurately indicates. But they're facing an even more impotent outfit in the Jets, who are 30th in the league with a 15.8-point average. Minnesota's defense has held offensive powers like New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago to less than 21 points, and has a real chance to do it again.
Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us two, three or four times, shame on us. While it's true Ryan got more than he should have from an 8-8 team last year and true that he'll probably land another NFL job and succeed after this season, the reality for 2014 is that he's pretty much out of tricks.
The Vikings are not the Packers and the Jets could out-mediocre them, but the default setting is lose from here on out.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Vikings 17, Jets 7
12/07 09:12:41 ET