CINCINNATI – The Vikings have allowed at least 40 points three times in one season for the first time since … (pause for dramatic effect) … 1984.
Anytime, someone mentions the words “1984” and “Vikings” together, it’s never a good thing.
But Sunday’s 42-14 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium wasn’t just a defensive fiasco. Quarterback Matt Cassel’s season-high four turnovers led to 14 first-half points and a 21-7 deficit early in the second quarter.
It also extinguished any good feelings that remained from Cassel’s 382-yard performance in a 48-30 upset of the Eagles the week before.
“As good as last week was, then you come in here and it was as bad as it gets,” said Cassel, who fell to 2-3 as a starter this year. “We stunk it up here, quite frankly.”
A week after reaching their highest point total since 1998, the Vikings’ offensive production Sunday was staggeringly poor. The offense went 0-for-9 on third downs, 0-for-2 on fourth downs and ran 29 fewer plays (48) than the Bengals (77). Or, put it this way: When the Bengals went up 35-7 in the third quarter, they have more touchdowns (five) than the Vikings had first downs (three).
Cassel completed just 13 passes for 114 of the team’s 209 yards of offense. He was intercepted three times, sacked four times and posted a 32.6 passer rating.
How bad was that passer rating? Well, it’s the third-worst rating of Cassel’s 87-game NFL career. His worst two ratings were a 19.1 in 2010 and a 19.8 in his first NFL game.
So, once again, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is faced with making another decision at quarterback heading into Sunday’s season finale against the Lions at Mall of America Field. Does Frazier give Cassel his sixth start, Christian Ponder his 10th start or Josh Freeman his second start?
Asked if Cassel will start against the Lions, Frazier said, “We’ll sit down and talk about it, but my initial thought would be ‘Yes.’”
Cassel is hoping for one more opportunity to leave a positive lasting impression before deciding whether to opt out of the final year of his contract.
“Obviously,” said Cassel, “you want to get the taste out of your mouth.”
The taste was bad from the third snap of the game when unblocked blitzers Vincent Rey and safety Reggie Nelson strip-sacked Cassel on third down. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap returned the fumble 42 yards to the 4-yard line, setting up the first touchdown.
Eighteen minutes later, Cassel made his worst throw of the game. Looking for Greg Jennings on a short route in heavy traffic, Cassel threw an ill-advised pass, allowing Rey to jump the route and return the interception 25 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
Twenty-one points later, this year’s team had joined the 1984 (3-13) and 1965 (7-7) teams as the only ones to allow 40 points at least three times. The teams in 1984 and 1965 each did it four times. Of course, this year’s team still has one more crack at it.