Matt Cassel will be making his first start for the Minnesota Vikings … in London. Whether he will have the chance to start more games for them back in the United States remains a valid question.
Vikings starting quarterback Christian Ponder suffered a fractured rib injury in Sunday’s 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns and had been limited in Wednesday and Thursday’s practices. He didn’t practice at all on Friday after reportedly taking the majority of snaps with the first-team offense on Thursday.
“(We) just felt like from a medical standpoint it was too risky to put him out there and take a hit not knowing what the possibilities might be after taking a hit to the ribs,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after Friday’s practice. “Tough, tough guy but it probably wouldn’t be wise to put him in that situation.
“He wanted to play, especially in this venue. You don’t know how many times you’ll have a chance to play in a game like this.”
Ponder told reporters the fractured injured rib was near the heart, causing greater concern if he would have taken a hit. After Sunday’s game, the Vikings have their bye week, giving Ponder at least two weeks off.
Ponder was booed repeatedly during his performance against the Browns, the Vikings’ first regular-season game in front of the home Metrodome crowd. In that game, he completed 25 of 42 passes for 228 yards, but he didn’t throw a touchdown, threw one interception and took six sacks on his way to a 64.4 passer rating.
Through three weeks, Ponder had completed 59 of 100 passes for 691 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions for a 65.9 rating. His rating is 30th among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 10 passes this season, with seven of those having a rating exceeding 100.
Frazier was asked what happens with the starting job if Cassel plays well on Sunday.
“I’m hoping that he shines, but I don’t foresee a quarterback controversy,” Frazier said. “We want him to play lights-out and have the best game of his NFL career.”
Cassel was trying to keep the focus on Sunday’s game and not the future of the Vikings’ quarterback position after that.
“I’m not really looking ahead, to be completely honest. I just found out this morning (he was starting),” Cassel said. “For me, it’s really about just going out there and being accountable to my teammates and hopefully getting out of here with a win this weekend.”
Cassel hasn’t played a regular-season snap for the Vikings since signing a two-year, $7.4 million contract, but in his eight previous seasons in the NFL he has completed 58.9 percent of his passes with 82 touchdowns and 57 interceptions.
Cassel started 62 games over a five-year period with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, but playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers has rarely been easy for him. In three games against them, Cassel has completed only 47 percent of his passes for 571 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
“I’ve got to take care of the ball; we’ve got to take care of the ball,” Cassel said. “We’ve got to execute and whoever does that and plays good situational football will win on Sunday.”
OTHER STARTERS OUT, TOO
Ponder was hardly the only injury that will affect the Vikings.
The team also ruled out staring CB Chris Cook with a groin injury suffered Sunday, starting S Jamarca Sanford with a hamstring injury suffered Sunday, and contributing TE Rhett Ellison with a knee injury suffered two weeks ago.
Adrian Peterson, who was held out of Thursday’s practice on a coach’s decision, will play and wasn’t listed on the Friday’s report.
All other Vikings listed were probable, including CB A.J. Jefferson (ankle), RB Matt Asiata (hamstring), DT Kevin Williams (knee), LB Erin Henderson (heel) and LS Cullen Loeffler (neck). All them were full participants in Friday’s practice.
For the Steelers, RB Le’Veon Bell (foot), CB Cortez Allen (ankle), TE Heath Miller (knee), DT Steve McLendon (hamstring) and DE Brett Keisel (hamstring) are all probable for Sunday.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.