Leslie Frazier: Matt Cassel 'more than likely' will start
DEC 04, 2013 1:53p ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Matt Cassel met the media on Wednesday, assuming the place of the Minnesota Vikings' starting quarterback with a press conference at a podium inside the team's field house at Winter Park.
Cassel joked about his first time at the podium for Minnesota and being ill-prepared for the first snowy conditions of the season because he doesn't have a shovel. Turns out, Cassel is getting used to a few new things this week.
Coach Leslie Frazier said Cassel will "more than likely" start Sunday's game at Baltimore, choosing Cassel over Josh Freeman with Christian Ponder still recovering from a concussion. Cassel has started three games this season, but this is the first time he's entered the week's practices already named as the starter.
"It's nice being up here," Cassel said. "I've never been up here before. It's a pretty nice setup. I probably need to borrow a snow shovel from somebody the way it looks outside. I don't have one of those, either. But I'm excited about getting the start this week coming off of last week's emotional victory."
Cassel replaced Ponder in last weekend's 23-20 overtime win against the Chicago Bears, playing the entire second half and overtime and going 20-of-30 passing for 243 yards. The performance is one reason Frazier decided to stick with Cassel this week, especially with Ponder unable to pass concussion testing as of Wednesday.
"Part of it is, what he did in the second half of that ballgame on Sunday, and also, seeing his comfort level with where we are, and having a comfort level with him, as well," Frazier said. "But his work on Sunday has a lot to do with it. He did an outstanding job in the second half of that ballgame against Chicago."
Cassel leads all Minnesota quarterbacks this season with an 84.6 quarterback rating and is the only quarterback who has thrown more touchdowns (five) than interceptions (four). He's tied with Ponder with a 63.6 completion percentage, but has taken control of the offense in his limited appearances.
Cassel started in the Vikings' first win of the season in Week 4 in London against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Ponder was out with a fractured rib and also started in Week 6 following the team's bye in a loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Since then, Cassel has replaced an injured Ponder twice in Minnesota wins. First, Cassel came on in the fourth quarter of a win against Washington, after Ponder dislocated his shoulder, and then last week against Chicago when Ponder suffered a concussion before halftime. Cassel also replaced Ponder in a loss to Seattle after Ponder threw two interceptions.
Cassel signed this offseason in Minnesota to back up Ponder after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs. He's waited patiently for his chances.
"You get as frustrated as you let yourself get frustrated," Cassel said. "Each and every day I've tried to work hard. I've tried to stay in the right mind frame because I think anything other than that it takes away from doing your job and being able to go out there and perform when your number is called. I'm excited about the opportunity to play with guys again on Sunday and hopefully we'll go out and have a great game."
In his five games, Cassel has thrown for 241 yards or more three times. Ponder hasn't reached 240 yards passing this season and has surpassed the total just six times in his 36 career games. Yet, as the Vikings quarterback spot became a weekly question, the 31-year-old Cassel didn't appear to be given much consideration as a starter.
"Well, he's going to get a chance to start this weekend and we're all pulling for him to do a great job," Frazier said Wednesday. "And this will be a golden opportunity for him to lead our team to victory. Obviously, we have to play well around him. But he's going to get his opportunity this weekend.''
As for whether Cassel has a chance to take a permanent hold of the position, Frazier responded: "Well, you're always graded on performance. So if he performs, we'll sit down and talk about it Monday after the ballgame and make a determination from there."
Frazier said Freeman, who signed with the team in October and was given one starting assignment two weeks later, would likely be the backup on Sunday, given Ponder's concussion.
Cassel helped Minnesota survive a big second-half push in which Chicago built a 20-10 lead. Cassel was 6 of 10 for 79 yards in driving the Vikings down for a game-tying field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation. He was 3 of 4 for 38 yards passing in overtime. And with Adrian Peterson controlling the game on the ground, Cassel threw for more yards in the second half and overtime than Ponder has in a game all season.
"My biggest thing, any quarterback, you have to be a leader on the field," Cassel said. "You have to get lined up and also you have to be able to execute in crucial times in a game. Most of these games come down to one or two plays and it's about executing and knowing where to go with the ball when things don't go exactly as planned."
Cassel knows nothing is guaranteed for him beyond Sunday.
"It's a one-week season for me," Cassel said. "That's how you always have to approach it. If you start looking ahead, looking for the future, the what-ifs and putting added pressure on yourself, it's as difficult as it can possibly be every Sunday because there's always good opponents. But my focus is always on this opponent, this game, and we'll worry about the future later."
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