Teddy Bridgewater will make a homecoming on Sunday, but Stephen Weatherly won’t.
After playing for the Vikings from 2016-19, Weatherly signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract with Carolina as a free agent in March. But after starting the first nine games at defensive end, he was lost for the season with a finger injury.
Returning for the Panthers at U.S. Bank Stadium will be Bridgewater, a Vikings quarterback from 2014-17. Also coming back will be wide receiver Brandon Zylstra, a Spicer, Minn., native who played for Minnesota in 2018 but has just two receptions this season.
“It would have been nice to play against Minnesota,’’ said Weatherly, who had played in 53 straight regular season and playoff games before his injury. “They drafted me, but not being able to play period (stinks). … This is the first time I’ve ever missed significant time.’’
In a Nov. 8 game at Kansas City, Weatherly said he was injured when he caught a finger on his right hand in the jersey of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. He underwent surgery later that week and was placed on injured reserve.
Weatherly had some good moments with the Vikings after being taken in the seventh round of the 2016 draft. He had three sacks in each of the previous two seasons as a rotation player and was expected to make a key contribution to Carolina’s defense. But things haven’t gone as planned.
In his nine games, Weatherly had no sacks. Out of 107 defensive ends ranked this season by Pro Football Focus, he is at No. 92.
“I was trying to figure it out with a bunch of new guys together,’’ said Weatherly, who won’t travel to Minnesota this weekend. “It takes a while to build that camaraderie, but I was working towards it. I was in there mixing it up. I had some good pressures but sadly didn’t convert any into actual sacks. That’s something to work on.”
Weatherly said his recovery time was projected to be eight to 10 weeks, putting him in line to be fully healthy for the start of offseason drills. In the meantime, he’s been continuing to keep up with some former Vikings teammates, including fullback C.J. Ham, running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive linemen Jalyn Holmes, Jaleel Johnson and Hercules Mata’afa.
Minnesota’s defense has slipped considerably, with the Vikings ranked No. 27 in the NFL in scoring defense after being No. 5 last year. A number of notable defensive players left as free agents or were released following last season, something Weatherly cited as a factor for the dropoff.
“Everybody started opting out, and then (star defensive end) Danielle (Hunter) was hurt (and lost for the season), so anything’s possible,’’ he said.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is third in the NFL in fan voting for the Pro Bowl, trailing only two star quarterbacks.
In early returns, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes was first with 143,355 votes, Seattle’s Russell Wilson second with 139,839 and Cook had 131,875 votes. That puts Cook second behind Wilson among all NFC players and ahead of all other NFL running backs.
Cook, second in the NFL in rushing with 1,069 yards, is looking to be named to a second straight Pro Bowl, although the game won’t be played this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fan totals count for one-third of the voting with votes by coaches and players counting one-third apiece.
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Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, Troy Dye, D.J. Wonnum looking after their brothers in college ball
Vikings guard Ezra Cleveland again misses practice, Brett Jones again could start
Sister of Vikings DE Hercules Mata’afa was first football star in the family
Much love here for Carolina QB Teddy Bridgewater, who returns Sunday to face Vikings
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