Archived Story

Start Matt Cassel, end the QB controversy

Published 11:07am Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

On Feb. 12 of this year, I began my column with this sentence: “I still believe Christian Ponder is the right guy for the job of Minnesota Vikings quarterback.”

Man, I was wrong. Matt Cassel is the right guy.

So why was I such a supporter of Christian Ponder? How could I be so foolish?

The fact is, I really was a supporter of what the Vikings were trying to do: develop talent to become a franchise quarterback. By franchise QB, I mean the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli and Peyton Manning, Matt Stafford, Drew Brees and so on. You see, my favorite NFL team still hasn’t found a replacement for Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton, who last played QB for the Vikings in 1978. I was 7.

Before Ponder, the Vikings had a long streak of guys on the verge of retirement. We were the old-folks home for NFL quarterbacks. Let’s go in reverse order: Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre, Gus Frerotte, Brad Johnson.

OK, stop. This is where we had the seven-year Daunte Culpepper experiment. We attempted to develop a franchise QB. That’s good. He was fun to watch and better than Ponder, but he wasn’t that next-level talent some teams have. He was no Tarkenton.

So before Culpepper, we again were the retirement home: Jeff George, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon, Jim McMahon. Somewhere in there, the young version of Johnson paid a visit before he went on to win a Super Bowl for the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Before McMahon, the Vikings were in the mode of giving guys three years, then benching them when they weren’t good enough. Hmm, that sounds like the Ponder era. We did this with Rich Gannon and Wade Wilson. Gannon struggled in Minnesota but went on to win the Super Bowl for the Oakland Raiders. I don’t get the feeling that Ponder will find the same fortune for any other NFL team, but if he does, I will melt like the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz.”

That brings us to good old Tommy Kramer. I remember watching his hail Mary pass to Ahmad Rashad live on TV one afternoon. Kramer had a lot of guts, could play hard-nosed football and would fight hard to come from behind to win games. He was the correct guy to attempt to replace Tarkenton. But he was injured a lot and nightlife probably didn’t help his career. But when he was good, he was great. Still, he was the starter at the beginning of the season seven times. Tarkenton started our seasons for six years, then the New York Giants for five, then us for seven more. That’s 18 seasons as a starter.

Brady has been the New England starter for 13 seasons. Drew Bledsoe was the starter for eight before that. That franchise grew out of its quarterback controversies of the 1980s. The Vikes never have.

Favre, for example, led the Green Bay Packers for 16 seasons. Now that’s a franchise quarterback.

Because Ponder was a first-round draft risk in 2011, the general manager, the owners and the entire front office probably have had some sway with coach Leslie Frazier’s choice for starting quarterback.

If so, Frazier needs to explain to his bosses that, point blank, he needs Cassel to start. Tell them Ponder can’t throw accurately, holds the ball too long, is too cautious, plays scared and isn’t the motivator a quarterback needs to be. Development time is over.

The Vikings skip a week, then play Carolina, but it would be best to put the quarterback controversy to rest right away. Tell the fans and the media that Cassel is the guy. Be done with it.

Fans clearly want Cassel. And it’s not that difficult to tell the players want Cassel. They described his command of the huddle. They complimented his passing acumen. Even star running back Adrian Peterson, when asked whether the Vikings had found a starter for QB, smiled and said, “What do you think?”

The entire Vikings fan base celebrated the benching of Ponder last Friday due to a rib injury, and now they are celebrating Cassel’s vigorous performance Sunday because they hope it means they won’t see Ponder play in purple again.

We’ve heard coaches and pundits say fans are pinning the three losses entirely on Ponder because he was the quarterback, but that’s way off. Big Ben in Pittsburgh shows that teams lose despite a star QB. The coaches and team leaders of the Vikings fail to understand that fans simply don’t want to watch nervous quarterbacking.

Which brings me to the central point of this column: We are Tarkenton fans who want an aggressive guy behind center. That bold attitude electrifies the entire team — offense, defense and special teams. We’ve seen all kinds of QBs and know a thing or two. We aren’t one-dimensional, win-or-go-home fans. We see that Cassel plays with swagger and Ponder is timid. That means Cassel gives the Vikings a greater shot at victory. Make him the starter for the season.

 

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.