Teddy Bridgewater's health status is key for surprising Vikings in coming weeks

The Minnesota Vikings are 6-2 for the first time since 2009, when Brett Favre led them to the NFC championship game.

But unlike that veteran-laden team, when Favre's every move was covered with the breathless intensity of a Los Angeles car chase, these young Vikings have essentially flown under the radar. They have thrived in the shadow of NFC North rival Green Bay, who many Las Vegas oddsmakers picked as the preseason favorite to win it all.

In the wake of Sunday's overtime victory over St. Louis, the biggest question looming over the Vikings is the health of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who was hit in the head while sliding early in the fourth quarter and by all appearances knocked unconscious. He did not return to the game, although he reportedly believed he could have.

Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday that Bridgewater passed the first test in the concussion protocol and "should be good to go, I think."

The status of Bridgewater is crucial for a team that arguably has the NFL's toughest stretch during the next five weeks. The Vikings play at Oakland on Sunday, followed by the Packers at home, at Atlanta, Seattle at home and at Arizona. The Raiders and Seahawks are 4-4, and the other three opponents have winning records.

The Vikings, Green Bay and Arizona are tied for second behind 8-0 Carolina in the NFC. Of those three 6-2 teams, Minnesota has the best division record at 3-0, followed by the Packers (1-0) and Cardinals (1-1).

Bridgewater turns 23 on Tuesday. A person familiar with the situation said the quarterback went out for a birthday dinner after the Rams game, another indication he's on track for a speedy recovery. Zimmer gave his players Monday off, and had not talked to his quarterback as of his midday news conference.

Zimmer declined to say whether he talked to the NFL on Monday about cornerback Lamarcus Joyner's hit, which the coach and other Vikings thought was dirty.

The Vikings aren't blowing away opponents; over the course of their current four-game winning streak, they have won by an average of 5.25 points. They have a predictably strong ground game fueled by Adrian Peterson, a seventh-ranked defense getting phenomenal play from tackle Linval Joseph, and outstanding special teams thanks in part to the reliable kicking of Blair Walsh and returns of Marcus Sherels.

In the next five weeks, the Vikings will come into sharper relief — are they simply fast starters or do they have true staying power?

Take a seat, Talib

Whereas there's a strong case to be made that the hit on Bridgewater was dirty, Denver cornerback Aqib Talib left no room for doubt. His eye poke in the Indianapolis game was as cheap as it gets.

The league suspended Talib without pay for Sunday's game against Kansas City for jamming his fingers into the eye of Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, who was facemask to facemask with linebacker Von Miller at the time.

After the game, Talib said the poke was accidental.

"From my angle, I see [Allen] head-butt Von [Miller] a little bit," Talib said, according to the Denver Post. "I went over to poke his head, and I think my hand slipped and hit his face. He acted like he got in an 18-passenger car wreck. I guess that's what type of guy he is."

However, Talib was more remorseful Monday after learning of his suspension.

"They're entitled to discipline me. I deserve discipline," he said. "It was not intentional. I should have never went over there in the first place. ... My emotions got the best of me. I was a little heated. ... That's what I regret."

Down and out

Two productive young players, New England running back Dion Lewis and Philadelphia linebacker Jordan Hicks, are done for the season.

Lewis, in his third season, was put on injured reserve because of a torn knee ligament suffered Sunday against Washington. He was in the midst of a breakout season, with 234 yards rushing in 49 carries with two touchdowns, and 36 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns.

Hicks was put on injured reserve after suffering a torn pectoral tendon in Sunday against Dallas. Earlier in the game, the rookie third-round pick had intercepted a Matt Cassel pass and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown. In his first eight games, Hicks had three fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. His only sack came in Week 2 and broke the collarbone of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Welcome back

When the New York Jets play host to Buffalo on Thursday, it will mark the return of Bills Coach Rex Ryan.

Ryan, who coached the Jets from 2009 to 2014, tried to dismiss the homecoming as just another game on the schedule. Yet, typical for Ryan, he couldn't resist adding a little sideshow for the encounter. IK Enemkpali will serve as one of Buffalo's captains. The linebacker was released by the Jets in August for a punch that broke starting quarterback Geno Smith's jaw.

Ryan justified the move, saying he traditionally selects captains based on their ties to an opponent. For instance, Richie Incognito, suspended for his role in the 2013 a bullying scandal in Miami, was one of several former Dolphins designated as captains when Buffalo played Miami.

He also was playful about how the 4-4 Bills might compete against the 5-3 Jets.

"I wouldn't care if Joe Namath is the [Jets] quarterback. ... I think we would be all right," he said.

Then, he thought about that before adding, "Might change my mind if it was the young Joe."

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