Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Matt Cassel wasn’t always accurate. He fumbled on a play that could have turned the game in the Steelers’ favor if the Viking hadn’t recovered. But he was decisive and he threw with certainty and timing, allowing the Vikings’ receivers to make plays down the field and run after the catch.
That should be good enough to win the starting quarterback job for the forseeable future. The Vikings have built a strong offensive team and Christian Ponder’s indecisiveness had sabotaged the team’s plans to complement Adrian Peterson with legitimate outside receivers like Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson.
Sunday, with Cassel behind center, Simpson and Jennings looked like big-time playmakers. Not coincidentally, Peterson found room to run. The result was a 34-27 Vikings victory over Pittsburgh that saves, or at least extends the competitive portion of, the Vikings’ season.
By the time they come off a bye to face Carolina at home, the Vikings should have a healthy secondary, and a quality group of receivers who will have had more time to work with Cassel.
After one start, it's clear: Cassel is better than Ponder, and the right choice moving forward.
My column in Thursday's paper recreates the way I think the conversation between Leslie Frazier and Christian Ponder might have gone.
Here I'll put things more plainly.
Ponder coming down with a mysterious rib injury is perfect for the Vikings. They can take a look at Matt Cassel in a must-win game heading into the bye week, then make a more full-informed decision on the quarterback position. If Cassel plays brilliantly, he keeps the job. If he plays poorly, the Vikings can go back to Ponder and hope he has cleared his head, and they never would have actually benched him.
Of course, this is only speculation. The Vikings aren't about to tip their hand on this one.
For those wondering why, given all of the Vikings' problems, Ponder is the only one facing a potential benching, I go back to what Jerry Burns always said: Changing left guards doesn't send a jolt of electricity through your team. Changing your quarterback does.
Also, remember how much the Vikings invested in their passing game during the offseason. They signed Greg Jennings. They traded into the first round to draft Cordarrelle Patterson. Having a quarterback willing to hang in the pocket long enough for those players to get open (assuming Bill Musgrave actually puts Patterson on the field) might be a good idea.
I keep waiting for some sign of the NFL's popularity in London.
Haven't seen any indication in London proper that there is an NFL game this Sunday. Haven't seen a word in the major newspapers or on the morning TV shows. Or on the evening TV shows. I'm sure there has been media coverage, because there are plenty of reporters covering the Vikings' appearances and practices. Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places.
The NFL chose well when it chose the Vikings to play here and spend the week promoting the game. They're a willing group of interviewees and ambassadors. When I spoke with Jared Allen yesterday, he used the phrase ``bangers and mash'' about 12 times, saying he loves the food in London.
During the Olympics, I often made fun of London's food, but Allen's right. You can find great restaurants in London, just not where I was staying during the Olympics. The Strib's traveling entourage has particularly enjoyed the Grazing Goat Pub. Mark Craig even tried a dark beer before switching back to something resembling his traditional Bud Lights.
I thought the highlight of the press conferences was Rick Spielman saying he called home to tell his wife to bring her bathing suit, the weather was so nice here.
Not so fast, Rick. It's overcast and threatening today.
I'm spending today with photojournalist Carlos Gonzalez in London, looking for some local color. I mean, colour. Thanks for reading. Remember, we have Mark Craig, Chip Scoggins, Carlos and myself covering all angles of the Vikings' trip to London, including the game. Please check back on Startribune.com for columns, stories, notes, blog posts, photos and videos.
Adrian Peterson looked tired. At least he looked better than London's version of the Vikings' mascot.
That version was a small cutout figure outside the soccer fields surrounding Wembley Stadium, where the Vikings made their first London appearance on Tuesday.
The mascot was small and purplish, with what looked like goat horns. It looked like what the creators of Pokemon would have envisioned a Viking to be.
Peterson just looked worn out. He played catch with London schoolchildren and ran them through the drills. Here's what he had to say as the Vikings prepare for their game on Sunday at Wembley against the Steelers:
``I haven't had the opportunity to talk to anybody who's played over here, but we have a pretty good game plan to adjust to the time change and be ready to play on Sunday,'' Peterson said. ``It's just another game on the schedule, but it's definitely time for us to get a W. This is not a vacation for us. It's time for us to focus and win a game.
``It can be challening, but it's challenging for the other team, too. Equal playing field.''
I was impressed by the attitude of the Vikings' players and coaches. They put on a good show with the kids.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he didn't know if defensive backs Chris Cook, A.J. Jefferson and Jamarca Sanford would practice on Wednesday. That's bad news this week. The Steelers don't run the ball well. Their only hope offensively is for Ben Roethlisgberger to make big plays with his wide receivers, particularly Antonio Brown.
Please check in at startribune.com regularly for updates, stories, columns, blog posts and videos from London, where Chip Scoggins, Mark Craig, photojournalist Carlos Gonzalez and myself will be covering the team all week.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon with Judd and Dubay each weekday, per usual.
My Monday column deals with the confusion and raw emotion surrounding the Vikings' loss at Soldier Field, so in this post I'll address a positive:
The Browns come to town next week.
And another positive:
The Vikings get to play the in-decline Steelers in London after that.
And another positive:
The Vikings then get a bye week in which to prepare for an 0-2 Carolina team.
The sky isn't falling. It's just raining a little.
I know the favorite statistic of the national media is that since 1990 only 12 percent of teams starting 0-2 have made the playoffs.
But most of the teams that start 0-2 had little hope before the season began.We're talking about Jaguars and Browns and the like.
The Vikings did win 10 games last year. They stil have the MVP. Their defense started showing signs of life on Sunday, creating four turnovers. And their quarterback played his best half of the season in the second half on Sunday.
More important is who the Vikings play. They didn't figure to be better than 1-1 at this juncture, because they hardly ever win at Chicago. So they're one game behind schedule with the Browns, Steelers and Panthers coming up. If they could put together a three-game winning streak, they'd be in contention.
And while their schedule after that seems daunting, Washington isn't nearly as difficult a matchup as it was considered to be before the season began.
Starting 0-2 leaves the Vikings with little margin for error, but it's not over until it's over, or unless you lose to the Browns.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. to talk about the Vikings game and other stuff. I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon with Judd&Dubay.
Also, I haven't received any feedback on my Jerry Kill column. If you'd like to let me know what you think, please send all emails to SHartman@startribune.com.
This is why we love the NFL, for its unpredictability and drama.
This is why workplace productivity takes such a hit on Mondays following the Sundays when the local NFL team loses.
At different times during the Vikings' 31-30 loss to Chicago, I expected Christian Ponder to be benched, Devin Hester to return every kick for a touchdown, Adrian Peterson to be ground into dust, and Jay Cutler to get extremely hot and dominate the game.
Instead, Ponder settled down after an awful first half and played the way he did last December, the Vikings' defense and special teams produce countless big plays and the Vikings set themselves up to win an almost-must-win game at a place where they hardly ever play well, Soldier Field.
Most interesting, they put themselves in position to win without a big game from Adrian Peterson, who outperformed most mortals but was hardly his dominating self because of the Bears' attentive defense and the slippery turf.
Then Jay Cutler hit Martellus Bennett with a touchdown pass with 10 seconds left, and the Vikings suddenly were staring into the abyss, at 0-2.
Again, that's why we love the NFL, and so many of you hate Mondays. Games and seasons can swing in a matter of minutes.
Teams that return a kickoff and a fumble for a touchdown in the same game have lost only 12 times since 1940. While Ponder played much better in the second half, his inability to take advantage of a Bears defense stacked to stop the run in the first half may have been the deciding factor.
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