Teddy Bridgewater’s mind-set before first Dolphins start? ‘Honestly, it’s just be yourself’

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Teddy Bridgewater has experienced it all when it comes to preparing as a quarterback.

As a first-round pick out of Louisville in 2014, he served as the backup with the Minnesota Vikings before Matt Cassel’s broken foot thrust him into the starting role two games into his rookie season. He spent multiple seasons with the Vikings, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos as the unquestioned starter.

And he has come off the bench to relieve an injured quarterback, spelling Drew Brees with the New Orleans Saints and as he did last Thursday night after quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sustained a concussion in the Dolphins’ 27-15 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

With Tagovailoa ruled out for Sunday’s road game against the New York Jets, Bridgewater finds himself temporarily back in the starting spot, leading a Dolphins team trying to move past the sting of its first defeat of the season.

“Honestly, it’s just be yourself,” said Bridgewater, who last started in December 2021, when a concussion against the Bengals sidelined him for the rest of the season. “I can’t be Tua. I had to learn that lesson when I was in New Orleans. I couldn’t be Drew Brees. As long as I continue to be myself ... there’s a sense of relief [for his teammates].”

Filling in for Tagovailoa, Bridgewater almost rallied the Dolphins to a road victory despite the emotional circumstances of Tagovailoa being carted off on a stretcher. Bridgewater’s 64-yard completion to wide receiver Tyreek Hill set up a field goal to take a one-point lead late in the third quarter. But Bridgewater’s interception on a potential go-ahead drive with about five minutes remaining effectively sealed the defeat in what was an uneven performance for the entire team. Bridgewater finished the game 14 of 23 for 193 yards, one touchdown and his pick.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and teammates have expressed their confidence in Bridgewater, describing him as a starting-caliber quarterback whose experience has aided the team even while serving as Tagovailoa’s backup.

“To have not only his past history help him but everything he’s done in the building, it’s a huge, humongous deal,” McDaniel said of Bridgewater, who signed a one-year deal worth $6.5 million fully guaranteed in March. “So I feel very fortunate. Tua will tell you himself, and Skylar [Thompson], the whole [quarterback] room is better at their jobs because of Teddy.”

Bridgewater should be better prepared from having a week of first-team practice reps, as opposed to three walkthroughs in a backup role last week. The extended time has allowed him to get on the same page with his teammates and try to avoid the type of miscommunications that led to his interception last week when he was targeting tight end Mike Gesicki.

“Teddy understands my play style and I understand where he wants me to be at on the field,” Hill said. “That’s how we connected deep down the field against the Bengals. Just me and him on the same page. Him telling me, ‘Hey ‘Reek, if we get a certain coverage, I need you on this side of the hash. I need you here.’ And stuff like that. So just us being able to recognize things together and being on the same page. I try to have a good relationship with all of my quarterbacks.”

As Bridgewater said, he likely can’t be Tagovailoa, who has performed like one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL in the first month of the season. However, McDaniel said they signed Bridgewater in part because his skill set mirrors Tagovailoa and wouldn’t force the offense to change the playbook much. Bridgewater should also benefit from the play-calling of McDaniel, as well as a group of skill position players he called “the most firepower that I’ve ever been around.”

McDaniel, though, referred to the human element of preparing as a starter as opposed to being the backup. For multiple years as an offensive assistant with the Houston Texans, McDaniel would watch how Sage Rosenfels — who holds an NFL record for the most career passing touchdowns off the bench, 17 — would relieve a quarterback and play exceptionally. Rosenfels, though, would tell McDaniel how much more “overwhelming” it was to practice during the week knowing you were the starter.

Those are the types of pressures McDaniel said would Bridgewater would have to manage this week. And for Bridgewater, a Miami native who has battled back from multiple significant injuries, his first start as Dolphins quarterback could be more sentimental.

“I look at it as a blessing,” Bridgewater said. “Me standing here before you guys, me getting an opportunity to still play this game, there have been so many instances in my career where I probably could have never played again. Every day that I get to step into this facility, be around the guys, this coaching staff, the support staff, the crew in the cafeteria, it’s all something I soak in.”