The sun will rise again, December will be cold, the State Fair will be overcrowded and, wait, this just in from the podium at Winter Park on Monday …
“I told the team this morning that Matt Cassel will be the starter going into the season,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.
With those 17 words, the result in one of the more quietly strange NFL quarterback competitions went from being unofficially assumed for weeks by, well, everybody to official and a surprise to, well, no one. And that includes Teddy Bridgewater, the guy who lost despite a surprisingly strong preseason that includes no turnovers, four touchdowns, a coolheaded fourth-quarter comeback and a passer rating (117.3) that leads the league among players who have attempted at least 40 passes.
The fact that Bridgewater, a rookie first-round draft pick, played so well and still couldn’t close the gap in this competition speaks to how well the 10-year veteran Cassel accepted Zimmer’s challenge to hold off the future face of the franchise.
“To be honest with you, I worked tremendously hard this offseason to put myself in this position,” said Cassel, who has a 66.7 completion percentage, a 9.4-yard average per attempt and a 103.3 passer rating in three preseason starts. “I’m excited that it’s gone the way it has.”
Excited, but not content.
“I’m not celebrating,” he said. “It’s just one step in the process.”
And the decision isn’t irreversible, as Zimmer made sure to point out when asked how he’ll handle potential hiccups by Cassel and the ensuing clamor for the more popular Bridgewater to be promoted.
“We will hold the quarterback position to the exact same expectation that we do every other position,” he said. “If you perform, you play. If you don’t perform, then the next guy will get an opportunity at some point.
“That position, just like the outside linebacker spot, we have an expectation of performance. If those guys perform, they play.”
The starting job was Cassel’s to lose entering training camp. Both quarterbacks started fast in Mankato, but Bridgewater leveled off and regressed temporarily when he shared reps with the first unit leading up to and in the preseason opener.
“Matt did not do anything to lose the job,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s played great. The team has a lot of confidence in him.”
Support from team
Zimmer went on to say that starting Cassel is the “best thing to do right now.” Perhaps that was a nod to let Bridgewater know that a lot can happen over the course of 16 games.
“I told Teddy this morning that I’m so happy that he’s here with us,” Zimmer said. “I’m happy he’s the guy we picked. I’ve loved everything that he’s done. And it wasn’t anything that Teddy did or didn’t do. Teddy will still be, in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come.”
Teammates have appeared to unite behind Cassel as the immediate starter while acknowledging Bridgewater’s lofty potential.
“I guess when you have a situation like this, if the guy you have going first doesn’t mess up, it’s hard to replace him,” receiver Jarius Wright said. “That’s kind of how it worked out. Cassel being in the league longer, he’s the veteran who knows how to handle every situation a little bit better.”
Ups and downs
For the 32-year-old Cassel, Monday’s announcement was another spike in a 10-year ride that’s seen a little bit of everything. He’s gone from Southern Cal backup to Tom Brady’s unknown backup. From Brady’s prized injury replacement to beloved Pro Bowl player in Kansas City. From reviled goat in Kansas City to the best of last year’s three-headed quarterback fiasco in Minnesota. And, finally, to Monday’s official redemption.
“I’ve been through a lot in my career,” he said. “I’ve been through the ups, I’ve been through the downs. I’ve been through the highs and the lows, so at this point, nothing really surprises me.”
Meanwhile, Bridgewater doesn’t appear to be shaken from his initial reaction to the Vikings trading up in the draft to select him 32nd overall.
“As I stated once I got drafted,” he said, “I felt like this was the perfect situation for me.”