FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Todd Bowles called it the worst injury he heard of since Joe Theismann broke his leg in 1985. Teddy Bridgewater called it gruesome.
For the first time since joining the Jets last March, Bridgewater opened up about what happened Aug. 30, 2016, how he suffered a dislocated left knee cap, a complete tear of his ACL along with other structural damage in a noncontact drill while playing for the Vikings.
Bridgewater was dropping back to pass when his left leg buckled and he went down. Understandably, it was an emotional moment. Several of his teammates were so upset they threw helmets and coach Mike Zimmer ended practice early.
The horrific injury nearly cost Bridgewater his leg, and his comeback has taken nearly two years.
“I think about the reaction of my teammates, as gruesome as it may have seen, I felt like I did a great job of remaining poised,” Bridgewater said Tuesday. “There were guys throwing helmets, guys on knees and I didn’t cry or worry. I just knew it was in God’s hands. I was impressed with how I kept my faith. I got to see how much I meant to the guys not only as a football player but as a person. It could have went totally south. To be able to stand here right now, I’m thankful for the guys who supported me throughout the injury and the guys who are definitely still there.”
Bridgewater returned to the field last season, attempting two passes in a Dec. 17 game against the Bengals at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. He had told close friends he wasn’t going to get emotional, but he started to cry when fans gave him a standing ovation.
“It brought tears to my eyes. It showed you’re never out of it, you’re never out of the fight. There were dark days throughout my rehab process. When you’re rehabbing the light seems so far at the end of the tunnel. But to be able to see that light and make it to the light, being active and standing on the sideline with my gear on, it kinda hit me.”
When Bridgewater entered free agency after the 2017 season, the plan was to sign a one-year deal with a team, prove himself and then get a larger contract. Bill Parcells, the former Giants and Jets coach, was friends with Bridgewater and asked Bowles to give Bridgewater a chance.
Bowles knew his team was going to draft a quarterback in the first round, which it did in Sam Darnold, and re-sign Josh McCown. But the Jets also signed Bridgewater to a one-year deal, with a $500,000 signing bonus and incentives that could net him $15 million.
Bowles, who learned that Bridgewater has a good locker room presence, was impressed with how Bridgewater returned after the injury.
“Injuries in this game happen, and you don’t want it to happen to anybody,” Bowles said. “All you can do is cringe. Probably one of the worst injuries I’ve seen since the Theismann injury on that Monday night ball game. He seems to be bouncing back well.”
In the offseason Jets practices, Bridgewater has shown good lateral movement while wearing a knee brace, and he is displaying good touch on his passes.
Just being on the field for Bridgewater tells him he can overcome anything. He has been inspired by his mother, Rose Murphy, who overcame breast cancer.
“It was scary,” he said of his injury. “At the end of the day, I was still breathing. That was my biggest takeaway from it. When there’s someone out there with a situation worse than your’s, that’s the first thing that came to my mind — man I don’t know what just happened but I know there is someone out there maybe going through something worse than I am. I just have to keep my faith and believe that everything is going to be alright.”