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Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings, left, and quarterback Matt Cassel congratulated each other on their 57-yard touchdown connection in the first quarter Sunday against Philadelphia.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings (15) and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel (16) congratulated each other on their 57-yard touchdown connection in the first quarter Sunday against Philadelphia.

JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com,

Vikings fourth-string tight end Chase Ford stiff-armed Eagles free safety Patrick Chung for extra yards to set up a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

ELIZABETH FLORES • eflores@startribune.com,

Jerome Simpson jumped high to grab an onside kick in the fourth quarter after the Eagles cut the lead to 41-30 with 4:33 left.

JERRY HOLT • jerry.holt@startribune.com,

Eagles free safety Patrick Chung was called for unnecessary roughness on running back Matt Asiata during the fourth quarter.

ELIZABETH FLORES • eflores@startribune.com,

Cassel leads banged-up Vikings past Philadelphia

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS
  • Star Tribune
  • December 16, 2013 - 6:43 AM

In a season that’s gone haywire from the start and has made little sense along the way, nothing about the Vikings’ performance Sunday should come as a surprise.

No Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart? Cool, no problem.

Down both starting cornerbacks and the top two tight ends? Easy peasy.

Demoralized after another maddening last-second loss last week officially eliminated them from playoff contention? Fat chance.

The Vikings have exhibited 101 faults and flaws this season, but effort is not one of them. That was never more apparent than in a resounding 48-30 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mall of America Field.

This season of quarterback quandaries and late-game meltdowns has tested their patience and resolve and called coach Leslie Frazier’s job security into question. But like Charlie Brown kicking a football, the Vikings keep getting up and taking another swipe.

“I don’t think you can ever count out our players,” Frazier said.

The day began with a report by CBSSports.com that indicated the Vikings already have approached Penn State coach Bill O’Brien to gauge his interest. The team’s record (4-9-1) and Frazier’s contract status (he’s signed through the 2014 season) create obvious speculation that a coaching change could happen at season’s end.

General Manager Rick Spielman, who publicly voiced support for Frazier earlier this season, declined to comment when approached by a reporter in the locker room after the game. Frazier also dismissed a question about whether he feels like he’s coaching to save his job these final few weeks.

“Those of you that know me in the press [know] that is not my mind-set,” Frazier said.

Linebacker Chad Greenway praised Frazier’s handling of the team in a trying season but also acknowledged that players have no control over those decisions or reports/speculation about Frazier’s status.

“When you’re a team that has four wins, it’s going to happen,” he said. “That’s the NFL. That’s the business we’re in. It happens when you’re a player not playing up to par as well.”

It’s hard to find fault with anything about their performance against an Eagles team (8-6) that boasted a five-game winning streak, one of the NFL’s most potent offenses and a defense that hadn’t allowed more than 21 points in 10 different games.

Naturally, the Vikings scored their most points since the 1998 season, as Matt Cassel completed his first nine pass attempts and finished with 382 yards passing and three combined touchdowns (two pass, one rush). Third-team running back Matt Asiata added three touchdown runs in relief of Peterson (foot sprain) and Gerhart (hamstring).

The Vikings defense also hung tough against the Eagles’ turbo offense despite missing cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Chris Cook.

A true sign of how the script got turned upside down: Asiata finished with 30 carries, while Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, managed only 38 yards rushing.

“We have a bunch of guys with a lot of pride,” safety Harrison Smith said. “We’ve messed up plenty of times, not finishing games. But we’re not going to give up on the season.”

One play embodied that. The Eagles closed to within 27-22 entering the fourth quarter. Another collapse seemed inevitable, given the Vikings résumé this season.

The Vikings faced a third-and-14 at the Eagles 42-yard line. But Cassel connected with fourth-team tight end Chase Ford over the middle for a 37-yard gain. Asiata scored on a 1-yard run two plays later, and the outcome no longer seemed in doubt.

“I think that this locker room — more so than any other team that I have been on that has been struggling — they have stuck together,” Cassel said. “The attitude has been great, they have great camaraderie. You can tell nobody is laying down for anything. We are still playing for something.”

A hefty portion of Vikings fans probably lament that, in a season going nowhere, the Vikings won Sunday and thus hurt their draft positioning. Why win at this point, right?

Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams shook his head when asked this past week about those two competing interests.

“They have their right to say that,” Williams said. “I understand they pay their money to see the game or watch it at home. But we’re out there busting our butt, trying to do everything we can to win. And to just go out there and take a beating just to save it for next year, no, it’s too hard.”

The entire organization faces an uncertain future once this season ends. Change seems inevitable when a season drifts this far off course. The Vikings certainly have made life hard on themselves, but as they demonstrated again Sunday, they can’t be accused of packing it in.





 

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