Frazier: 'Our quarterback is Christian Ponder'
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It was unknown whether sitting quarterback Christian Ponder (ribs) would improve a stymied passing attack, but backup quarterback Matt Cassel's command was one of many reasons the Minnesota Vikings outlasted the Pittsburgh Steelers' late-game comeback to hold on for the 34-27 win on Sunday in London.
On 2nd-and-10 with 3:29 left, Cassel appeared to check into a pass play and then quickly connected with receiver Jerome Simpson for a nine-yard gain and a manageable third-down conversion. Two weeks prior, Ponder told reporters he was not given the ability to check out of a run play called when he handed off to running back Adrian Peterson on a 3rd-and-goal in a late-game loss at the Chicago Bears.
"That was a reaction to what the defense was giving us," Cassel said about the call, via WCCO's televised press conference.
However, coach Leslie Frazier reportedly said there is no quarterback controversy and Ponder is still the starter.
Keep in mind, coaches are very reliant on film evaluations. Frazier's hands are essentially tied at that point after the game, but his immediate endorsement is worth noting. The Vikings have the bye week to figure it out before facing the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 13.
The players didn't pick a side, but spoke kindly about Cassel, who led them to their first win of the season.
"Cassel, he's more vocal," Running back Adrian Peterson said via WCCO. "You could tell guys were buying into it."
"It's going to be tough for [coaches], it's a good thing we have a bye week coming up. I'm going to do my job, let coaches sort things out."
Cassel lifted the team's quarterback play, but also elevated his receivers as Greg Jennings was relatively hidden for three games until Cassel stepped in. After getting a five-year, $45 million contract, Jennings had just 11 catches for 160 yards to open the season. On Sunday, Cassel connected with Jennings on three of his four targets for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Jerome Simpson had his second 100-yard game of the season, catching seven passes for 124 yards, including a 51-yard bomb down the right sideline.
Cassel completed his last 11 passes, finishing 16-of-25 for 248 yards and averaged 9.9 yards per throw.
A lack of turnovers could be the most important thing for Cassel after Ponder had a hand in seven of the team's 10 to start the season.
"Just confidence in the huddle, [Cassel] did a good job controlling the huddle and running our offense efficiently," Fullback Jerome Felton said via WCCO. "Obviously our run game played well and he made some plays in the passing game for us."