MINNEAPOLIS -- In a surreal moment that could be relived for months and cursed for years, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down during a non-contact drill and clutched his left leg in agony less than 30 minutes into Tuesday's practice at Winter Park.
Some players became visibly upset, throwing helmets down, while others began to kneel in prayer as the team's media relations staff scurried to escort reporters off the field.
Coach Mike Zimmer ended practice immediately as athletic trainers immobilized Bridgewater's leg with Adrian Peterson, Brian Robison and Terence Newman among the teammates kneeling beside the fallen QB. An ambulance arrived with sirens blaring moments later to take Bridgewater to the hospital and presumably send the Vikings' Super Bowl aspirations down the drain.
Later, Zimmer delivered the bad news officially.
"Teddy suffered a significant knee injury," Zimmer said. "We don't know the extent of it yet."
Asked if there was any chance Bridgewater could return in 2016, Zimmer said, "It doesn't look good right now."
The team later released a statement saying Bridgewater had suffered a dislocated knee and a torn ACL, meaning Bridgewater's season is over.
The team expects Bridgewater to make a full recovery, but that does not help the Vikings for the 2016 season.
And just like that, on a non-contact play in a ho-hum practice two days before the fourth preseason game, Bridgewater is done and the Vikings turn to 36-year-old Shaun Hill, a 15-year veteran who is 16-18 as an NFL starter.
"Well, you know today is a disappointing day," Zimmer said. "Number one, Teddy is such an amazing kid. Everybody loves him. So it was disappointing for them and I didn't think we were going to get much out of practice (so he ended it).
"We'll get back in here (Wednesday) and we'll get back to work. We're not going to stick our heads in the sand. We're not going to tuck our tail between our legs. We're not looking for excuses. We're going to go out and fight like we always do. We got some great football players on this team. We'll figure ways to win football games if he's not here and that's what we're going to do."
Hill got his NFL start as an undrafted Viking way back under coach Mike Tice in 2002. Tice, a former Maryland quarterback, liked to give other former Terrapins, like Hill, a hand up into the NFL.
It wasn't until 2005 that Hill took a snap in a regular season game. He had two kneel-downs in the season finale and got released after Tice was fired.
Hill's winding road ended up back in Minnesota in 2015 when the Vikings needed a backup to replace Matt Cassel. Hill had played under offensive coordinator Norv Turner when Turner held the same job in San Francisco in 2007. Hill was 2-0 with a 68.4 completion percentage, five touchdowns, one interception and a 101.3 passer rating as a starter that season.
For his career, Hill has played in only 46 games with 34 starts. He's 16-18 with a 62.0 completion percentage, 8,053 yards, 49 touchdowns, 30 interceptions and an 85.2 passer rating.
The Vikings are -- or at least were -- a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl. They won the NFC North a year ago in a winner-take-all meeting with the Packers in Week 17 at Lambeau Field. A heart-wrenching wild-card playoff home loss ensued when kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in a 10-9 loss. But despair turned rather quickly to optimism because of the Vikings' No. 5 scoring defense, upgrades at offensive line and receiver, and the natural progression of Bridgewater, who had matched Brett Favre and Warren Moon with a team-record 17 wins through two seasons as a Vikings starting quarterback.
Without Bridgewater, the team's first-round draft pick in 2014, the Vikings could miss their perfect window of opportunity as they get set to open new U.S. Bank Stadium. With reigning league rushing champion Adrian Peterson now 31 and due to make $18 million in 2017, it's quite possible that Bridgewater and Peterson will never play another game together. Their complementary skills were being counted on behind an offensive line that added two starters -- left guard Alex Boone and right tackle Andre Smith -- and a new position coach in Tony Sparano.
But, like it or not, the Vikings have a fourth preseason game on Thursday. Then they travel to Tennessee to open the season on Sept. 11.
Tuesday's mood at Winter Park was one of complete shock. The kind of shock over a loss that certainly feels like the end of the Vikings' season before it ever began.
Not so soon, says Zimmer, who leaned on his two biggest mentors on Tuesday.
"I've talked to Coach (Bill) Parcells a couple times today," Zimmer said. "And I've talked to -- well, in spirit, I've talked to my (late) dad. He always found a way to do it (as a high school coach in Illinois). So, we're going to figure out a way. Everybody can count us out if they want, but I think that'd be the wrong thing to do."
--Lost in the bigger news of Teddy Bridgewater's practice injury was the release of longtime starting center John Sullivan. Sullivan, 31, was trying to return from missing all of last season because of two back surgeries, but simply couldn't beat out his former backup, Joe Berger.
Berger stepped in last year and played well despite the line's overall subpar effort. Pro Football Focus rated Berger as the top center in the league a year ago.
Sullivan started 93 of 109 regular season games and three of four playoff games after replacing Matt Birk as the starter in 2009.
"Our entire organization appreciates everything that John Sullivan has done for this franchise," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said in a statement. "Sullivan led our team, not only with how he played the game, but also with how he handled himself in our community. We wish John Sullivan and his family nothing but the best as they move forward."
Among the other cuts to 75, defensive end Scott Crichton, a third-round pick in 2014, and safety Antone Exum Jr. were waived/injured. They might be added to the team's injured reserve.
Also released was second-year tackle Austin Shepherd, who played 14 games and was the team's third tackle in short-yardage situations as a seventh-round draft pick a year ago.
--New U.S. Bank Stadium received good reviews from players after Sunday's 23-10 win over the Chargers. There were some loud moments. Not as loud as the old Metrodome, but, then again, this was a meaningless preseason game. We'll know more about the noise level when the Packers visit in the regular season home opener in Sunday night game on Sept. 18
"It's starting to (feel like home)," Smith said. "It's cool that the fans are so close. They really get to be part of it. It's going to be very loud. That's what we love."
--The Vikings love Mackensie Alexander's spunk, not to mention his two interceptions in three preseason games. But they're going to have to tweak the rookie second-round draft picks enthusiasm just a bit.
After intercepting a pass in the end zone against the Chargers on Sunday, Alexander celebrated on the wrong sideline when he ran over and taunted the Chargers for throwing at him on back-to-back plays. (He dropped the first interception attempt).
After a personal foul penalty for taunting was called, coach Mike Zimmer went in search of his young gun on the sideline. He finally corralled him and had a lengthy chat.
"He just said, you know, stay under control," the 22-year-old Alexander said. "Don't run to the other sideline, celebrate with our crowd. Don't run to their sideline. Stuff like that. Little things I have to correct. Not being too hyped. Be happy, but understand what I'm doing and do the right thing."
Zimmer wasn't happy about the post-play antics, but can live with it for now because of the swaggering promise Alexander shows before the whistle.
"Lot of ups and downs there, wasn't it?" Zimmer said when asked about Alexander's performance. "I love this kid, honestly. He's going to be a handful until I get him squared away, but I love this kid. He's a competitor. He works, he studies, he fights, he's made some interceptions here in this offseason. I would much rather have him that way where they're going to go in there and I have to pull the reins back than the other way."
Alexander kept both balls he intercepted. When veteran safety Harrison Smith told him they don't count, Alexander smiled and said, "There's more coming, man. God's good."