Most of the Minnesota Vikings fans, and even many of the players, seem to have made a decision on who should start at quarterback when their team comes out of the bye.
Coach Leslie Frazier isn’t ready make that call just yet.
Frazier said Tuesday that he wants to see how Christian Ponder’s injured ribs progress through the bye week before he makes a decision on who will start at home against Carolina on Oct. 13.
Frazier spoke two days after backup Matt Cassel helped engineer the Vikings’ first win of the season. Cassel completed 16 of 25 passes for 248 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-27 victory over the Steelers in London on Sunday and brought an efficiency and big-play ability to the offense that hasn’t been there all season.
Ponder has struggled this season. He has completed 59 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and five interceptions in the first three games, all losses for the Vikings. But those waiting for Frazier to declare that Cassel is the starter didn’t get what they were looking for.
”It’s hard to be concrete when you know that Christian is dealing with an injury,” Frazier said. ”So we’ll see what happens.”
Cassel wasn’t exactly Peyton Manning in his first action of the season. But the veteran who was signed in the offseason to backup Ponder looked much more comfortable in the pocket while bringing better timing and rhythm to the offense.
His throws were generally on target and gave his receivers a chance to catch and run, while Ponder so often this season has forced his receivers into tough positions with inaccurate passes. That was never more evident than on Cassel’s first touchdown pass of the game, a crisp throw out to Greg Jennings in the flat. The throw enabled Jennings to make the catch and immediately start heading up the field, and he was able to make several defenders miss and turn a short pass into a 70-yard touchdown.
After the game, several of his teammates were singing Cassel’s praises.
”Cassel is more vocal, giving his two cents in the huddle and you could see guys buying into it,” said Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Jennings, who caught his first two touchdowns as a Viking, lauded Cassel’s poise and confidence.
”Impressive him stepping up and becoming a starter. He’s always approached his role as a starter,” Jennings said. ”He understands what being a professional is all about. For Matt to come up big today is no surprise to us.”
Frazier said he hadn’t heard the comments from his offensive leaders, but did say that Cassel’s performance was one of the key factors in the offense’s crisp play against the Steelers.
”A lot of it had to with Matt, getting the ball out on time, being able to get us out of runs and execute when we had some eight-man fronts in the passing game,” Frazier said. ”I think a lot of it had to do with his execution as a quarterback.”
So, then what is Frazier waiting for? At one point Tuesday, he said that Ponder ”is our starting quarterback.” But he backed off of that stance when pressed on the issue.
”We’ll talk about a lot of things. It’s more than one ballgame,” the coach said. ”He did a good job. I don’t want to take anything away from what Matt did. We’ll try to do what’s best for our team. If we thought that Matt gave us the best chance to beat Carolina, then we’d approach that situation as well. If Christian is healthy, we’ll take a look at what we need to do.”