Josh Freeman, you’re officially on the clock.
The “what-if” scenario involving the possibility of Matt Cassel continuing to win and play well is off the table after the Vikings’ 35-10 loss to the Panthers at Mall of America Field on Sunday.
“He has to play better, there’s no question about it,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “I want to go back and evaluate what Matt did in this ballgame and make a determination [on next week’s starter] as we go this week.”
With the Vikings 1-4 and having already benched Christian Ponder, all eyes now turn to Freeman, the former Buccaneers first-round pick who signed with the Vikings last Monday. But will he be ready to play when the Vikings travel to play the winless Giants in a “Monday Night Football” game?
“I’m not sure,” Frazier said. “We’ll take a look when we get with him this week and see where he is. We’ve done some things with him in this first week. We’ll see.”
Freeman’s strength is throwing the deep ball with zip and accuracy. That wasn’t Cassel’s strong suit on Sunday.
Although he completed 72.7 percent of his passes, he was only 1-for-4 with two interceptions on passes that traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. His first attempt was a 25-yarder that sailed over Greg Jennings’ head and was intercepted by safety Mike Mitchell on the seventh play of the game. The Panthers turned that into a 7-0 lead.
“It just sailed on me,” said Cassel, who was hit as he threw. “We had pressure up the middle and I was trying to finish and I couldn’t do it.”
Cassel’s last pass that traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage also overshot Jennings and was intercepted by Mitchell again. That one caused the Metrodome to begin emptying with 10 minutes, 43 seconds left. It also led to another touchdown and a 35-3 deficit.
“We got the coverage that we wanted on that one,” Cassel said. “It was just I tried to throw it a little bit higher and we didn’t connect on that one.”
Cassel, who also threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph with a minute left in the game, said he doesn’t know what to expect this week. Freeman declined to comment.
“I hope I am [the starter],” Cassel said. “I think that if this team is going to turn this around, I’d like to be the starter and compete and do all the things I can do. But at the same time, Coach makes the decisions. We’ll see.”
Of course, one has to wonder if a second change at quarterback will make a difference behind a line that gave up three more sacks and six hurries.
“[Matt] did what he could do,” Ponder said. “[Carolina] got some pressure in the backfield, and he was put in some situations that were tough. … He made some mistakes, but we’ll learn from the film. I know he’s a hard critic on himself.”