The quarterback in use at the end of all three wins by the Minnesota Vikings this season has been Matt Cassel.
For all of the sparks he has provided to the Vikings' uneven offense, Cassel has begun another week without clarity on his place on the depth chart. Coach Leslie Frazier declined Monday to declare Cassel the new starter, despite a concussion for Christian Ponder the coach said he's "concerned about."
That doesn't mean Cassel won't be back under center this weekend when the Vikings (3-8-1) play at Baltimore. Frazier, however, said there's no rush to decide.
"Just going to see where Christian is as we get into the week a little bit and see how things go as we move forward," Frazier said.
Ponder must pass NFL protocol testing to be cleared. If he doesn't recover in time, Frazier and the Vikings again wouldn't even have to bench him, per se. Prior to playing Pittsburgh Sept. 29 in London, Ponder was ruled out because of a broken rib. Cassel passed for 248 yards, a team-high total this season, and the Vikings were victorious.
Ponder took a hit to the head late in the second quarter Sunday against Chicago. So, Frazier was asked, why not name Cassel the starter now after his performance in the 23-20 overtime triumph by the Vikings?
"You could easily do that, but I think for us it would be wise to talk things through," Frazier said, glancing at his wristwatch. "There's no reason at this point on Monday at 12:40 that we have to make a decision. We can talk it through and do what's best. But Matt did a terrific job in relief yesterday afternoon leading our team to victory."
Cassel completed 20 of 33 passes for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception in just the second half. His throw to Rhett Ellison was on target but bobbled at the goal line by the backup tight end late in the fourth quarter and picked off by Khaseem Greene. Cassel even raced over to make a forceful tackle of Green at midfield.
"I was upset. I was playing with anger. I hope he felt that, too," Cassel said, laughing.
The nine-year veteran has basically been counted out of the quarterback carousel since Josh Freeman replaced him Oct. 21 for that cringe-worthy Monday night game against the New York Giants. That was Freeman's only turn, and Ponder has been the starter since.
Though Ponder played one of his best games in the Nov. 7 win over Washington, Cassel came in after Ponder dislocated his shoulder. He went 4 for 6 for 47 yards in the fourth quarter that night. But Frazier has said for several weeks he believes Ponder gives the Vikings their best opportunity for victory, leaving Cassel as the backup.
"We've definitely had some discussions about where he is and his role. But he's been a pro throughout," Frazier said.
Cassel said Monday he doesn't know why he hasn't been considered as a starter since the Oct. 13 game against Carolina, a 35-13 defeat by a Panthers team that hasn't lost since then.
"I don't make those types of decisions. At the same time, I'm not always in agreement with what decision they might go," Cassel said. "But at the same time, you deal with those decisions."
Frazier didn't directly answer a question about whether Freeman will be considered to start against the Ravens. He was inactive Sunday against the Bears for the sixth time in eight weeks on the roster.
In less than three full games with Cassel running the offense (against Pittsburgh and Carolina, plus the fourth quarter against Washington and the second half against Chicago), Greg Jennings has 15 catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns. He's been thrown to 21 times.
The rest of his first season with Minnesota, with Ponder and Freeman? Merely 28 receptions for 315 yards and no scores. That's over more than eight full games, targeted a total of 50 times.
"I can't speak enough high regards to what he 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 of Cassel. "He prepares like a pro should prepare every week. Hat goes off to him."
Cassel said he appreciates the "football mind" Jennings brings to the field. The same was being said of Cassel.
"He's been in this league a long time, and you can't throw too much at him that he hasn't seen," right tackle Phil Loadholt said. "So we've got full confidence in Matt."
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