This has become the early defining moment in Leslie Frazier's coaching career. As a former player – with a Super Bowl ring to prove it – Frazier won't give up on the 2011 season. Given the state of the lockout and lack of opportunities for the Class of '11 to work out with their teammates, teams were forced to make hard decisions.
Carolina figured there was nowhere to go but up, throwing top overall pick Cam Newton out on the field and hoping for the best. With a new coaching regime with time to build a winner, the future started the day they drafted Newton, for better or worse. Andy Dalton in Cincinnati started opening day as well, more because Cincinnati is the Siberia of the NFL than a skill set that floored the Bengals coaching staff. Blaine Gabbert is installed in the Jaguars lineup, not because he blew the doors off the training facility, but because nobody outside Florida buys Jaguar jerseys and, in order to grease the wheels for Gabbert, Jacksonville cut veteran David Garrard – who ironically remains unsigned.
Two teams took a different approach – Tennessee and Minnesota. Mike Munchak and Frazier, both former players turned head coaches, opted to get a veteran QB to keep the seat warm. In Jack Daniel's country, the whiskey-sippers have little to complain about with Matt Hasselbeck's performance. The Titans are 3-1 and even season-ticket holders and face-painters would have been hard-pressed to predict they would be 3-1, especially with Chris Johnson initial holdout causing concern.
Then there's McNabb. He's played a little less like Donny and more like Marie in the first four games of the season, but Frazier has remained loyal, standing behind his QB. Some may contend that he saw what happened to the confidence of Tarvaris Jackson when Brad Childress threw him under the bus two games into the 2008 season in favor of Gus Frerotte. He may have also remembered that, before his body cracked like a dry twig, Frerotte helped lead the Vikings to the playoffs.
Regardless of his motivation, much like Chilly and T-Jack were joined at the hip, in the early stages of Frazier's head coaching career, like it or not, he's tied to McNabb. To bench McNabb would be a sign to a fan base desperately wanting to continue cheering on their beloved team that the Vikings of 2011 have given up. If was attempting to energize the fan base at a critical time when feckless politicians are startled by the sight of their own shadows, Ponder would have likely seen the field in the third quarter of last Sunday's game. But, as a former player tied to a veteran QB, to bench McNabb when the team technically still has a shot at the playoffs (they are just one game behind the Dream Team in Philadelphia) would be a sign of surrender. A career coach might do that. A former championship player won't.
Like it not, as long as McNabb stays healthy, it's looking like McNabb could be the Vikings starting quarterback until the bye week a month from now. At that point, the Vikings decision-makers will sit down and evaluate the team both in the short-term and the long-term. Frazier maintains his loyalty to McNabb because that is the type of person – not coach – that he is. He is giving McNabb a month to turn things around. Arizona, Chicago, Green Bay and Carolina will determine his fate.
For the foreseeable future, McNabb remains the starter. But when the Vikings return from their bye week and head into Green Bay for a Monday night game Nov. 14 against the Packers, it's anyone's guess who the starter will be. If the Vikings start looking long-term, the Ponder Era is likely to begin sooner than expected.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.