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Vikings pencil in Cassel as starting QB

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By The Sports Xchange

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Leslie Frazier announced a change in starting quarterbacks Wednesday for the fourth time in 13 games. And that doesn’t count the number of weeks the Minnesota Vikings coach weighed his starting options and stuck with the inconsistent Christian Ponder.

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Matt Cassel, who just weeks ago was excluded by Frazier from competing with Ponder and Josh Freeman for the starting job, is back in for at least one start when the Vikings (3-8-1) travel to play the Baltimore Ravens (6-6) on Sunday. Ponder is out for at least one week after suffering more symptoms Wednesday from the concussion that knocked him out of the Vikings’ 23-20 overtime win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Cassel is 1-1 as a starter this season. He looked really good in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London in Week 4 and really bad in a home loss to the Carolina Panthers in the team’s next outing.

“Part of (the reason for Cassel starting this week) is what he did in the second half of that ballgame on Sunday,” Frazier said. Cassel led the Vikings back from a 20-10 deficit with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass and a last-minute, game-tying field goal drive in regulation.

“Also, seeing (Cassel’s) comfort level with where we are, and having a comfort level with him as well. But his work on Sunday has a lot to do with it. He did an outstanding job.”

Regarding the NFL’s concussion protocol, Frazier said Wednesday, “There are some things that, at this stage, (Ponder) has to get done that he wasn’t able to get done today. More than likely Matt Cassel is going to be our starter for this ballgame. We’ll proceed accordingly with Josh as our backup, understanding where Christian is in trying to pass those tests.”

If Ponder were cleared to practice Thursday, the plan could evolve, but Frazier said that is unlikely.

Waiting to see what happens at quarterback from week to week is an all-too-familiar theme for the Vikings. Naturally, the starter for the home game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 15 is anyone’s guess at this point.

“Well, you’re always graded on performance,” Frazier said. “So if (Cassel) performs, we’ll sit down and talk about it Monday and make a determination from there.”

When Ponder broke a rib against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3, Cassel started Week 4 against the Steelers. Cassel threw for two touchdowns in a turnover-free victory and kept the job. He was replaced by Josh Freeman a week later after throwing two interceptions in a 35-10 loss to Carolina.

Freeman’s only action as a Viking came during his lone start at the New York Giants on Oct. 21, 14 days after he was signed as a free agent. He completed just 20 of 53 passes (37.7 percent) in a nightmarish performance as the Vikings lost 23-7. The Minnesota offense didn’t score a point.

Freeman suffered a concussion in that game, and he has not played since. Talking about his upcoming No. 2 role in Baltimore, Freeman tried to help explain his recent inactivity.

“An NFL offense — and I know you (reporters) haven’t been around them — but they’re pretty complex,” he said. “There are different layers. There’s stuff that they might’ve run earlier in the year that’s a pretty hard concept that they just installed for the certain week. There’s a lot to take in, and it’s been fun learning it.

“Of course, as a competitor I want to play. But I’m a guy that’s just going to work my butt off until that opportunity comes.”

With Freeman still learning and Ponder ailing, Cassel said he isn’t examining his role beyond the game at Baltimore.

“If you start looking ahead, looking for the future, the what-ifs and putting added pressure on yourself, it’s as difficult as it can possibly be every Sunday because there’s always good opponents,” said Cassel, who completed 20 of 33 passes for 243 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception against the Bears. “But my focus is always on this opponent, this game, and we’ll worry about the future later.”

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