After a game-saving performance from Matt Cassel, it appears his chances to start next week are directly tied to the health of Christian Ponder.
Ponder left the game late in the first half after sustaining a concussion. He had completed only 3 of 8 passes for 40 yards, took three sacks and led the Vikings to 16 net yards passing in the first half.
Enter Cassel, who handed off to Toby Gerhart to finish the first half and then created another quarterback controversy – at least among fans still interested in this team – with a solid second-half performance. The Vikings had a 7-6 halftime lead, but quickly fell behind 13-7 on an 80-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery only two plays into the third quarter, before Cassel ever threw a pass.
Cassel finished the game completing 20 of 33 passes for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception following a bobbled pass that could have just as easily been a touchdown. All of those numbers were compiled in 43 minutes of play.
Still, head coach Leslie Frazier said, Ponder is still a consideration to start Sunday if he passes his NFL-mandated post-concussion IMPACT testing.
"Of course. He has to be a consideration," Frazier said.
"Matt did a good job in relief, there's no doubt about it. We'll monitor Christian's health throughout the week and we'll sit down as a staff and talk about what's the best direction to go."
The Vikings had seven drives in the first half, resulting in five punts, one touchdown and the end of the half. None of those drives went longer than five plays.
They also had seven drives in the second half and overtime, resulting in three field goals, one missed field goal, an interception, a touchdown and one punt. None of those drives went less than five plays and three of them went 12 plays or longer.
None of his throws was bigger than a fourth-down completion to Jerome Simpson that gained 20 yards when the Vikings needed 11. That came on the game-tying drive with less than 2 minutes to play and the Vikings on their own 8-yard line.
"It was crunch time there. I thought the offensive line did a heck of a job holding up and we had a backside in-cut against split-safety coverage and that's where the read took me," Cassel said. "(Simpson) did a good job of winning and we were able to hit it and continue to move forward on the drive. Anytime you're caught in a situation, the great part about it is just the fact that you have four downs in that situation so any given play can make the difference and it just happened to be that that play."
Said Simpson: "He a veteran quarterback. He's always poised and we just had to make plays for him. Just coming in there like that, he has to have that confidence and us as receivers, tight end and running backs, we just have to go out there and catch those balls and find that rhythm."
Simpson was the only receiver with a catch longer than 6 yards in the first half. He was targeted five times, but Ponder overthrew him in each of the first two drives. Still, his 32-yard reception – the Vikings' longest pass play of the game – was from Ponder in the first half.
Cassel had pass plays that went 24 yards to Jarius Wright, 24 yards to Simpson, 22 yards to John Carlson, 21 yards to Wright, 20 yards to Simpson and 19 yards to Greg Jennings.
Jennings was targeted twice in the first half with Ponder at quarterback, catching one pass for 2 yards. He finished the game nine targets for seven receptions, 78 yards and a touchdown.
"Can't speak enough high regards to what (Cassel) did. I've said this in the past: He approaches every week as though he's the starter so when it is his opportunity to step up and make plays he's ready," Jennings said. "He prepares like a pro should prepare every week. Hat goes off to him. I can't say enough about him. He's a great guy to have in your back pocket."
None of the receivers wanted to get involved in a potential quarterback controversy, and neither did Cassel.
"I don't make those decisions," Cassel said. "To be quite honest, my job is to go out and get prepared each and every week and whatever coach asks me to do, do it and put my best foot forward. I might not always agree with it, but at the same time my job is to go out there and be prepared and be accountable to those guys in that locker room."
Cassel and Blair Walsh both made entries on the defensive statistics in what turned out to be perhaps game-saving tackles.
In the fourth quarter, trailing 20-17, the Vikings appeared to be on their way to a go-ahead touchdown. They had the ball on the 6-yard line and on second down Cassel fired for TE Rhett Ellison, who bobbled the ball before Bears LB Khaseem Greene grabbed it out of the air and returned it to midfield. Cassel stopped him.
"I was upset. I was playing with anger. I hope he felt that, too," Cassel joked. "He was probably like, ‘I just ran him over, that was great. One more opportunity to hit him.'"
Still, Walsh believes Cassel had the better tackle among the non-defensive players making them for the Vikings.
Walsh's tackle came with 14 seconds left. The Vikings kicked off to Devin Hester, who returned the kick 57 yards before Walsh forced him out of bounds.
"Just get in his way. I think that's what we're taught, just get in the way," Walsh said.
"I don't make a lot of coverage plays because our coverage team is pretty good. I was just trying to get in his way and not let him get into plus territory and get a chance for a field goal. … It wasn't anything spectacular by me."
But it was game-saving.
TALE OF TWO KICKERS
Walsh was voted to the Pro Bowl last year after making 22 of 25 field goals, including all 10 from 50 yards or beyond, as a rookie. But he came up short on a 57-yard attempt for the win in overtime.
That attempt came after he had just made a 39-yarder that was nullified by a facemask penalty on Rhett Ellison. On third-and-25, the Vikings tried to get closer by having Adrian Peterson carry the ball, but he lost 3 yards and Walsh was forced to try a 57-yarder.
"Obviously I would have been comfortable kicking it from wherever had from that original third-down spot after the penalty," Walsh said. "But you can't (question running Peterson). Coach's decision on that is strictly his and I think he made the right one."
Walsh called it a "practical decision" to try to get closer.
Robbie Gould, who entered the game as the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, good on 86.3 percent of his attempts, gave the Vikings new hope when he missed 47-yard kick wide right in overtime. That came after coming up short on a 66-yard attempt at the end of regulation.
Gould's last miss indoors was 2007. He had made 34 consecutive indoor kicks before his 66-yard attempt. But it was the 57-yarder in overtime that was the surprising one.
Seven plays later, Walsh was kicking the winner from 34.
Jared Allen said never assumes a field goal will be made anymore.
"In 2009, I thought we were going to kick the field goal and win (in the NFC Championship Game) and look how that worked out for us," Allen said.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.