Sunday afternoon, Case Keenum gave the kind of sublime performance that, under normal circumstances, engenders a week of tranquility for an NFL franchise. The Vikings are not operating under normal circumstances. On Monday, eight minutes into Coach Mike Zimmer's news conference, came a simple and relevant question: "Is Case going to start this week?"
"I haven't sat down and talked to everybody yet," Zimmer replied. "I'm going to wait until Wednesday."
The Minnesota Vikings will name their starter Wednesday for Week 11's improbable marquee matchup, even though their prior starter is healthy and they're 7-2, runaway favorites in the NFC North. Everybody expects Keenum will start against the Los Angeles Rams. Zimmer wouldn't make it official because of the return of the Vikings' original starting quarterback, back before their quarterback situation spun into confusion.
Teddy Bridgewater sat on the Minnesota Vikings bench Sunday afternoon before kickoff, in full pads again, and dabbed his moist eyes with a towel. He had not dressed for an NFL game since the final game of the 2015 season, when he was still the clear and auspicious future of the Vikings, a franchise quarterback solidly in place. Now, having made it back 14 months after a horrific knee injury, Bridgewater's presence provided both emotional uplift and potential confusion for the Vikings.
The Vikings further established themselves as a threat to the Philadelphia Eagles' supremacy in the NFC. They are an obvious contender with a muddled quarterback situation. They have taken control of the NFC North behind Keenum, who started the season as the backup to Sam Bradford, who went on injured reserve last week to make room for Bridgewater.
Got all that figured out? The Vikings will have to make sense of it after Keenum made a big argument for, and a small argument against, his permanence. He passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns against the Redskins. The Vikings are now 6-2 with Keenum as the starter. But Keenum also threw two interceptions, on consecutive attempts, once the Vikings had the game in hand, which momentarily pulled Washington back into the game.
Both passes - one floated into double overage, the other telegraphed - were the kind of terrible mistakes that have stamped Keenum a backup for the majority of his career. In the specific case of the 2017 Vikings, they were the kind of throws that could make a coaching staff consider swapping out a successful quarterback for another option.
"The two turnovers were bad," Zimmer said. "Back to back, we got the game pretty much in hand. The rest of the game, he played pretty darned good. He moved in the pocket well, threw the ball good. He's a very excitable guy. Sometimes, he gets off the reservation a little bit. I talked to him a little bit this morning about understanding the situation of the game. Sometimes, a throwaway is a good thing."
Bridgewater will hover over Minnesota's season. It will be a pleasant hovering, because the Vikings continue to win and it's wonderful for Bridgewater to be back at complete health. But every time Keenum shows a potential stumble, even in the middle of a spectacular performance such as Sunday's, Bridgewater's presence will loom.
The Vikings have taken a circuitous route to their current dilemma. In the final week before the 2016 season, Bridgewater tore his anterior cruciate ligament and dislocated his kneecap during a noncontact drill at practice. It was so gruesome some teammates wept, and the Vikings canceled the rest of practice. The injury threatened Bridgewater's career.
Minnesota believed it had the makings of a Super Bowl contender, and so it dealt two picks, including a first-rounder, to the Eagles for Bradford. The Vikings started the season 5-0, only to finish 3-5 and miss the playoffs as Bradford completed a staggering number of short passes to little effect.
Bridgewater was not ready for Week 1 of this season, and so the Vikings signed Keenum, a journeyman who had started 23 career games, as a useful backup. Bradford was spectacular in an opening victory over the Saints, but immediately the "oft" could be removed from the "oft-injured" label affixed to Bradford. A chronic knee injury struck, and Bradford ceded to Keenum.
Keenum was inept in his first game, but in the seven weeks since, he has toggled between adequacy and excellence. Playing alongside Minnesota's devastating defense, Keenum has been good enough to make the Vikings one of the best teams in a muddled NFC playoff picture and the runaway favorite to win the North.
But in the Vikings' ideal plans, Bridgewater, a first-round pick in 2014, will reclaim his place as their franchise quarterback. Until Sunday, that vision remained gauzy and hypothetical. Now Bridgewater is back. The primary reaction is joy - Bridgewater's career has survived a catastrophic blow. Secondarily, it is wondering whether an NFC contender will swap quarterbacks midstream.
For now, Keenum is playing too well to be replaced. It is rare for a winning NFL team to make a change at quarterback, for good reason. But it will be an option for the remainder of the season. Whether to insert their one-time franchise quarterback on a division-leader is a welcome controversy to have. But it will stay with the Vikings all season, long after a starter is named this week.