Greg Jennings (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)
Greg Jennings and Matt Cassel have a strong on-field relationship, no doubt. Jennings wonders how the season might have changed with more of Cassel; Leslie Frazier prefers to look ahead.
The connection continues.
Can there be any doubt that there is better synchronicity with Greg Jennings and the quarterback when Matt Cassel is throwing the ball versus when Christian Ponder is pulling the strings?
On Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, Jennings had a career-high 11 catches for 163 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown. It was Jennings’ first 100-yard game as a Viking.
“That’s why we brought Greg in here was to have days like this. He is a special player, he does a tremendous job of getting open and we continue to work hard each and every week and it showed today,” Cassel said. “It makes my job easy when he gets open, I put the ball in his hands and he makes plays.”
Cassel put it perfectly in Jennings’ paws on the first-quarter 57-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring. Jennings said he made an adjustment on the route, saw Cassel step up in the pocket and was hoping the throw was coming his way.
“He did a terrific job of stepping up and not getting caught up in the people around him. He didn’t panic,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “He knew where to go with the ball, very decisive. He played like a veteran quarterback in the NFL. He made a lot of big-time plays when they weren’t always there. Some of the things that seemed simple or would be hard he made them seem simple at times. Even throwing the ball outside when they had so many people in the box in certain situations. Just made a lot of good decisions, just really pleased with the way he played.”
So was Jennings, for obvious reasons.
Through 14 games with the Minnesota Vikings, Jennings has 59 catches for 733 yards and four touchdowns. All four touchdowns have come from Cassel.
Cassel has started four games and came in for relief of Ponder late in the first half of the Dec. 1 Chicago game. Those five games account for 32 of Jennings’ 59 catches, 420 of his 733 yards, and he has a 13.1-yard per-catch average in those games.
Cassel has benefitted from Jennings, too. The veteran quarterback now easily has the best passer rating on the team, 90.7, completing 120 of 194 passes for 1,504 yards (144 yard short of Ponder), nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
It has made some players wonder what might have happened if Cassel had been the starter more frequently.
“He’s done a terrific job. And we did start him after that Pittsburgh game against Carolina. Made those decisions at the time for different reasons,” Frazier said when asked about that possibility. “Always felt good about Matt, but there were some things we needed to see.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to get wins when we were going through the process. That would have been a lot better. Knew why we’re doing it back then, so hindsight is always 20/20.”
Frazier said he has moved on from second-guessing what might have happened with Cassel playing more often.
Jennings? Not so much.
“Yeah, you wonder about it,” Jennings said. “I remember mentioning something like that to Matt and he was like, ‘Well, we’ve got three games left. I love it because that’s his mindset. He’s not worrying about what could’ve, should’ve, what might have possibly been. He stays in the now. As a player, that’s how we have to operate.
“It was great to the see the in-synchedness of the offense and just the way we operated as a well-oiled machine.”
Cassel is making $3.7 million this season, the highest paid quarterback on the Vikings roster. He would make the same amount next year if he doesn’t opt out on the final year of his two-year contract, which is his option.
Jennings said he would likely lobby for Cassel to stay at the end of the season. Frazier prefers to look ahead.
“We’ve got to just focus on this opponent,” he said. “Can’t look back, can’t look ahead and if you do it affects what we have to get done on this day. You have to move on in this league.”
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.