Cassel has more upside at quarterback than Ponder

Published 1:48 am Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

Matt Cassel did in his first Vikings start on Sunday something Christian Ponder hasn’t done in his three-year career: finished with a quarterback rating of more than 120.

Filling in for Ponder, who was out with a rib injury, Cassel threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in a 34-27 win over Pittsburgh in London. Ponder has reached the 200-yard mark while passing for at least a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions only three times in 30 games for the Vikings.

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While modest compared to many quarterbacks in the pass-happy NFL, Cassel’s performance was the steadiest the Vikings have received in years, and he took calculated risks throwing the ball downfield, helping talented players like Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson fulfill their potential.

Most importantly, Cassel led the Vikings to their first win, and that alone should be enough to earn him the starting job going forward.

Going into Sunday’s game, I wasn’t sure whether to cheer for or against the Vikings. Only three teams since the playoffs expanded in 1990 have made the postseason after starting 0-3, and surely those teams were more talented than Minnesota.

Part of me wanted the Vikings to win and begin to salvage a season that fans would be interested in throughout December. But the other part, perhaps the logical one, wanted the Vikings to begin a losing streak so long that only the prize of next spring’s NFL draft, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, could end.

I’m still not sure whether I’ll be rooting for the Vikings or Panthers in Week 6, but I do hope that Ponder remains on the sideline.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said before Sunday’s game that while he hoped Cassel has the best game of his career, there would be no quarterback controversy regardless of the game’s outcome. Frazier was noncommittal when asked who would start next following the game, saying “for us, we’re just going to enjoy this win.”

While the Vikings are unlikely to put up much of a fight in a division with the Packers and surprising Bears and Lions, no matter who their quarterback, the choice to ride Cassel until proven otherwise is a no-brainer.

While Cassel will certainly have his moments, he proved in four quarters that his upside is much higher than the incumbent starter’s.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Tuesday.