Notebook: Cassel rallies Vikings to a win, but is he stuck as backup?
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MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel stepped in relief of quarterback Christian Ponder and orchestrated a 12-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 30-yard Blair Walsh field goal for the 20-20 tie to force overtime against the Chicago Bears.
But despite his late-game heroics, coach Leslie Frazier said Ponder "has to be a consideration" to start if he's healthy following a concussion he suffered just before halftime of Sunday's win.
"[Cassel] did a good job with all of the eight-man fronts we got today," Frazier said. "He has the ability to make those routine throws on a consistent basis and that's what you have to be able to do with the way our offense is structured and having the [running] back that we have."
Even with Frazier's praise, it appears Cassel is pigeonholed as the backup - although Frazier wouldn't rule out Cassel starting.
"It's unfortunate that Christian got injured, great that Matt came in and did the things that he did and we'll sit down on Monday and see where we are and figure out where Christian is health wise over the course of the week," Frazier said.
"Of course. [Ponder] has to be a consideration [to start]."
Ponder finished with three completions on eight attempts for 40 yards as he took three sacks in the first half before exiting with concussion-like symptoms. Receiver Jerome Simpson received five of Ponder's eight targets as he came down with one catch for 32 yards in the first half.
The Vikings' offensive line did very little to protect Ponder as he was sacked three times on 11 dropbacks, all on third downs. The offense gained just 16 net passing yards before Cassel stepped in and finished with 243 yards, a touchdown and an interception across the second half and overtime.
Cassel chased down Bears rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene on a 49-yard interception return after tight end Rhett Ellison bobbled a goal-line catch into Greene's arms.
"I was upset. I was playing with anger. I hope [Greene] felt that, too," Cassel said with a smirk. "I knew I had man-to-man and I was trying to get him the ball quickly. Unfortunately, Rhett [Ellison's] done a tremendous job for us, and unfortunately it went off his hands and they were able to bring it in and thankfully we were able to stop the linebacker from running down the field."
The Vikings defense forced a three-and-out on the following possession and Cassel converted a 4th-and-11 from the Vikings' 8 with a 20-yard dart to Simpson in the middle of the field. Cassel completed three of his next four throws for another 60 yards, which put the Vikings in position to force overtime.
Even though Cassel has led the Vikings to two wins, the other being his first start on Sept. 29 in London -- the Vikings are going to keep Ponder in consideration. Cassel also helped revive receiver Greg Jennings' influence in the passing game as he found the $45-million offseason addition for six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.
All three of Jennings' touchdowns this season have come from Cassel and the 31-year old quarterback elaborated on the pair's rapport on and off the field after Sunday's win.
"Greg [Jennings] and I hit it off since we got here both coming here as free agents [this offseason]," Cassel said. "We love talking football, we both have families, small children. I was just at his daughter's birthday party yesterday, so it's just a lot of fun. Greg's a great player so it's been good."
Cole starts, Henderson sits
Linebacker Audie Cole got his second straight start against the Bears on Sunday and was third on the team with nine tackles and also batted one pass away that led to the Vikings only takeaway on Sunday.
Bears quarterback Josh McCown flipped a pass near Cole, who tipped the ball into the air and into the arms of Bears guard Kyle Long. Long ultimately fumbled and linebacker Marvin Mitchell was there to recover.
Cut one week and a starter the next, Cole is aware of how one play can damage or build a player's value.
"Thankfully we got it back," Cole said. "Otherwise that would've been on me."
Linebacker Erin Henderson returned after sitting out last week for 'personal reasons' that he and coach Leslie Frazier claimed were separate from a Nov. 19 arrest on suspicion of drunken driving. Frazier said this week that Henderson would not start, but would play.
Henderson and swing tackle J'Marcus Webb were the only active Vikings players to not see a single snap.
"It was more about Audie [Cole]," Frazier said. "I thought he played another good ballgame. I'll take a look at the tape to verify it but everything that I saw from the sideline, he looked like he did everything that we would want in that position."
Walsh, Ellison relieved - but not happy
Tight end Rhett Ellison bobbled away what would've been a go-ahead touchdown catch at the goal line and watched as Bears rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene trotted down the field for a 49-yard return in the fourth quarter.
After the Vikings defense and kicker Blair Walsh bailed him out to force overtime, Ellison was flagged for a 15-yard face mask penalty on Walsh's would-be, game-winning field goal on their first drive in extra minutes. Walsh would eventually boot a 34-yard field goal to win with less than two minutes remaining in overtime.
"[First thought] was that I really screwed over the team," Ellison said. "Just made a big mistake."
"I was more worried about [Devin] Hester, I didn't even think about my inside hand."
Walsh's 39-yard attempt, which was negated by Ellison's penalty, sailed through the uprights and began a sequence of pyrotechnics set off on both endzones. After the Vikings actually claimed victory on Walsh's 34-yarder later in overtime, they had no fireworks to light off.
"Oh my...I don't know," Ellison said about how to describe the win. "The elephant is off my back, or something like that."
The Vikings wouldn't have had a shot to win had Bears kicker Robbie Gould not whiffed on a 47-yard attempt following Walsh's 57-yard miss - the attempt pushed back by Ellison's face mask penalty.
"The life of a kicker, you have a short memory. I came to the sideline and looked at Jeff and said it's gone, it's done with," Walsh said. "We're going to get a chance to win this game. Even when Robbie was going up for his attempt, he's a great kicker, but I had a feeling we were going to get another chance and we did."
After Gould pushed his only overtime attempt wide right, Walsh cleared the 34-yard field goal set up by running back Adrian Peterson's 29 rushing yards on the final drive. The NFL MVP finished with a season-high 211 yards playing through a sore groin.
"I might owe the field goal team some...dinner," Walsh said. "That's for sure."