Ever since Matt Cassel signed with the Minnesota Vikings, head coach Leslie Frazier has insisted that Christian Ponder is his starting quarterback. Despite three straight losses to open the season and Ponder's passer rating at a putrid 65.9, ranked 30th in the NFL, Frazier still believes Ponder is the answer.
In a USA Today article on Friday, he was still insisting that there was no quarterback controversy, saying, "I don't foresee a quarterback controversy. But we want (Cassel) to play lights-out – want him to have the best game of his NFL career on Sunday."
Frazier had to know that if Cassel played well against the Steelers, he would be second-guessed for sticking with Ponder as long as he has. With the win now, Frazier finds himself in a very difficult situation—how to backpedal on supporting Ponder without looking like he's going back on his word.
With the bye this week, Ponder has another 14 days to get healthy and make things very interesting.
Frazier would be wise to stick with the story that with a broken rib next to the heart, the Vikings want to be extremely careful with Ponder and not risk his long-term health.That way, Frazier will have another game to evaluate Cassel. If he does well against Carolina, Frazier can go with the cliche that Cassel gives the Vikings the best chance to win right now. If he chooses, he can use the rhetoric that Ponder is still the long-term answer at quarterback—not that anyone will believe it.
Greg Jennings' Emergence
In one game, Cassel was able to show Vikings' fans what they were missing. There was a reason the Vikings signed wide receiver Greg Jennings to a five-year, $45 million contract. Cassel only completed three passes to Jennings, but two of them went for touchdowns. The first was good for a 70-yard catch-and-run that gave the Vikings an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The second was a beautiful post-pattern throw that hit Jennings as he stepped into the end zone, putting the ball right in front of him where only he could catch it. They were Jennings' first two touchdowns of the season.
Great Passing Performance
It was the first game of the season with two touchdown passes and the first game of the season the Vikings offense did not turn over the football.
Cassel was able to lead the Vikings to six scoring drives, with four touchdowns and two field goals. It was the most for the offense this season. If not for a missed 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, this game would have been over long before Ben Roethlisberger fumbled with 19 seconds left in the game.
When the Vikings' defense came up with their seventh interception of the season, Cassel capitalized on the turnover and quickly led the offense on a two-play scoring drive on Jennings' second touchdown catch.
Good Second Half
The Vikings have had a lead in the second half of every game this year, only to find a way to lose the game by the time the clock ran out.
Despite not scoring in the fourth quarter, the two touchdowns in the third quarter were the most points scored in the second half this season. When the fourth quarter opened, Cassel and the Vikings had a 34-17 lead. In the final 30 minutes, Cassel was a perfect 10-of-10 for 120 yards and a touchdown—a 150 passer rating, only 10 yards and a touchdown from a perfect rating of 158.3.
All He Does Is Win
In the NFL, there are plenty of statistics we can use to compare players, especially at quarterback. But the only stat that really counts is whether or not a team wins. This game felt a lot like the first three of the season. Even though it was the defense that came up with a big turnover to prevent the Steelers from possibly tying the game in the final minute, Cassel led the Vikings to a 17-point lead that was a large enough cushion to secure the win.
It's only one game, and a small data set for this season. Cassel deserves a shot to prove it was not a fluke—Ponder had three chances and failed.