In this week’s episode of As the Three-Headed Quarterback Turns, we catch up with Matt Cassel, the only Vikings quarterback to both win a game this season and be told this week that he wasn’t under consideration as the guy who gives the team the best chance to beat the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday.
Does that sound fair to you, Matt?
“Unfortunately, I don’t make the decisions,” Cassel said after Wednesday’s practice.
“Coach [Leslie] Frazier and whoever is making the decisions have decided to go this direction. As a player, you might not always agree with it, but you accept it and move forward and continue to work hard. You have a choice. Any time adversity comes our way as players, we can feel sorry for ourselves and become a distraction. Or you can continue to work, be professional and do what you’re paid to do. That’s my choice.”
Cassel (1-1) will be the No. 3 quarterback. Frazier wouldn’t announce his choice between Josh Freeman (0-1) and Christian Ponder (0-4), but put your money on Ponder making his second consecutive start even though Freeman has been cleared to return from the concussion that kept him out of last week’s 44-31 loss to the Packers.
Ponder was seen taking first-team reps during the portion of practice open to reporters. Freeman stayed after practice to run plays with the young backups. And Ponder’s body language suggested he has been given another shot to jump-start what’s left of his career in Minnesota.
In four games this year, Ponder is completing 60.3 percent of his passes (73 of 121) for 836 yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions and a 69.5 passer rating. In two games, Cassel is completing 69.6 percent for 489 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 92.0 passer rating. And in his only game, a 23-7 loss to the Giants after he had practiced only four times with the first team, Freeman completed 37.7 percent (20 of 53) for 190 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 40.6 passer rating.
Last week, Ponder completed 14 of 21 passes for 145 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions and an 86.4 passer rating. The Vikings converted only two of eight third downs, while the Packers converted 13 of 18.
Asked if anything felt different from his first go-round as starter during the team’s 0-3 start, Ponder said: “I felt like the game was even slower than it was before. Just felt like I was seeing things pretty well. Seeing coverages, seeing safety rotations. I could see the field pretty well.”
Ponder, who wouldn’t give up Frazier’s secret, was asked if it was time for some continuity at a position that’s seen three different starters the past three games.
“I’m selfish in that fact,” he said. “I want to be the guy who is consistently out there. But I think guys are handling it pretty well.”
On Monday, Frazier said age and the future of the quarterback position beyond this season were not factors in his decision this week. Ponder and Freeman are 25. Cassel is 31.
“I’m not going to get into specifics about what [Frazier and I] talked about, but obviously we both had our opinions on it,” Cassel said. “But at the end of the day, he’s the head coach. He makes the decisions.”
As for Frazier choosing not to reveal his decision publicly, he said he’s not sure what kind of problems that will cause for the Cowboys.
“I hope it makes a difference,” he said. “I don’t know if it will. Everybody comes in saying, ‘We’ve got to stop [Adrian Peterson], so it doesn’t always make a difference. But it’s not necessary that I have to divulge anything on Wednesday.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett didn’t sound too flustered when asked what problems it presents.
“That’s just part of the preparation,” he said. “When you’re in this situation, you have to first and foremost prepare for the system and the other people who play in the system. Certainly Adrian Peterson is a guy who will be in the ballgame regardless of who the quarterback is. … You try your best to try and evaluate the differences in the system with Ponder playing and Freeman playing, and try to make your best estimation.”
Jennings doesn’t practice
Six players didn’t practice Wednesday, including receiver Greg Jennings, who is dealing with a knee injury that’s not expected to keep him out of Sunday’s game at Dallas.
Others who didn’t practice were cornerback Chris Cook (hip), strong safety Jamarca Sanford (groin), tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), nose tackle Fred Evans (knee) and fullback Matt Asiata, who has a shoulder injury and also was absent because of the death of his father in a car accident on Monday.
Five other players were on the injury report but had full participation in practice. They were linebacker Chad Greenway (wrist), cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle), receiver Rodney Smith (hip), kicker Blair Walsh (left hamstring) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee).
For the Cowboys, seven players did not practice. They were receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), cornerback Morris Claiborne (hamstring), safety J.J. Wilcox (knee), linebacker DeVonte Holloman (neck), safety Danny McCray (hip/toe), defensive end DeMarcus Ware (thigh) and guard Brian Waters (elbow).