Despite late heroics from Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Cassel still took another big step toward winning the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback competition Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals in a 30-28 win.
Nothing against Bridgewater, who was decisive, productive and, above else, clutch during his stint in the second half. He drove the Vikings 83 yards in less than a minute to win the game, completing a performance that was far more indicative of his individual talent than the shaky preseason debut he produced last week.
But Bridgewater's progression should take nothing away from Cassel, who looked sharp and comfortable running Minnesota's first-team offense for the second straight week.
He engineered three scoring drives over five series, before exiting the contest at halftime with a passer rating of 125.3. He gave the Vikings no reason to remove him as the starter for Minnesota's third and most important preseason contest next week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In fact, he essentially cemented his hold on the job, even if Bridgewater will rightfully get all the headlines.
|Matt Cassel's Statistics, 2014 Preseason|
|Week 1 vs. OAK||5-of-6||62||10.3||0/0||109.7|
|Week 2 vs. ARI||12-of-16||153||9.6||1/0||125.3|
|Started both games|
Poised and confident, Cassel completed 12 of his 16 passes for 153 yards and one score. He averaged 9.6 yards per attempt and took zero sacks.
His numbers could have been even better had he not slightly overthrown Cordarrelle Patterson on third down during the first series or if Kyle Rudolph had caught a well-thrown ball to the corner of the end zone on the second. Patterson had beat Patrick Peterson deep down the right sideline, while Rudolph would be expected to make his catch during the regular season.
The rest of the night saw long stretches of production from Cassel.
On his second drive, he found Jerome Simpson for 19 yards on 3rd-and-15. Three plays later, he showed off his underrated athleticism, scrambling 23 yards to the Arizona 20-yard line. His four-yard scamper set up a 1st-and-goal, but Rudolph's drop forced the Vikings to settle for a field goal.
His third series ended after just two plays, as Cassel found Rudolph streaking across the field for a 51-yard touchdown.
His final two drives both ended in field-goal attempts.
On the first, Cassel found Patterson and Greg Jennings for completions, but Blair Walsh missed his 51-yard attempt. On the second, Cassel completed four of five passes for 38 yards to help set up Walsh's 34-yard try, which he converted.
Overall, the Vikings ran 33 plays for 199 yards (6.03 per play) and scored 13 points on the five drives with Cassel under center.
|Matt Cassel's Drive Chart vs. the Arizona Cardinals|
|4||7||18||Missed field goal|
|33 plays, 199 yards|
Coaches love to see players stack successes. Cassel did that Saturday.
Over one drive during last Friday's preseason opener, Cassel completed five of six passes for 62 yards while leading the Vikings to their only touchdown of the contest.
He found Patterson, Jennings and Rudolph for completions—including a 22-yarder to Rudolph that nearly resulted in a score—before Matt Asiata lunged in for the touchdown. The first-team offense picked up right where it left off against the Cardinals.
Again, this isn't meant to take anything away from Bridgewater.
The Vikings will roll back this tape Sunday and find themselves in an ideal situation, with two capable and confident quarterbacks playing well. And Bridgewater certainly played well Saturday night.
The rookie first-rounder completed 16 of 20 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. His quarterback rating of 136.9 bested Cassel's. And his four drives resulted in 17 points.
There was a certain cold-bloodedness to Bridgewater's final drive. He threw under duress but never wavered or looked rattled. With that calm, relaxed look that all great quarterbacks have in times of pressure, Bridgewater led a seven-play, 73-yard drive in just 53 seconds.
He found Rodney Smith for 37 yards against a blitz to give the Vikings a real shot. After two penalties put Minnesota on the doorstep of a victory, Bridgewater put his knife through Arizona's heart with a well-placed throw to Smith in the end zone.
Just like that, a "here we go again" loss for the Vikings (after a wacky fumble return for a touchdown gave the Cardinals a lead) turned into the most improbable of wins, even during the preseason.
If Bridgewater ever amounts to anything in the future, we can look back at the final drive in his second preseason game as the singular moment when we discovered he had greatness inside him.
Still, Cassel did nothing Saturday night to lose his hold as the team's No. 1 quarterback. If he starts next week against the Chiefs, there's a good chance he'll also start when the Vikings open the regular season against the St. Louis Rams.
Certainly give credit to Bridgewater, who could have tried to force things after Cassel played well for the second consecutive week. He clearly felt no internal pressure, and that's a good thing for the rookie moving forward.
Bridgewater might have saved the quarterback competition in Minnesota for the time being, but it'd still be foolish to consider anyone but Cassel as the favorite to win the starting job.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.
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