Jennings clearly clicks with one Vikings quarterback

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2013 - 6:38 AM

With Matt Cassel under center, the wideout has played a larger role.

 

Greg Jennings purposely sidestepped a quarterback question in a victorious postgame locker room Sunday afternoon. But given his production with Matt Cassel under center, Jennings might benefit from yet another quarterback change.

“That’s up to the coaches,” the veteran wide receiver said after the Vikings’ 23-20 overtime victory against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier declined to announce his intentions at quarterback Monday after Cassel engineered a comeback in relief of Christian Ponder, who suffered a concussion late in the first half.

Ponder must pass the NFL’s concussion protocol before being cleared to play Sunday at Baltimore, so Frazier felt no need to rush his decision.

“There’s no reason at this point on Monday at 12:40 [p.m.] that we have to make a decision,” he said. “We can talk it through and do what’s best.”

The offense clicked with Cassel at the helm to erase a 10-point fourth quarter deficit. Cassel completed 20 of 33 passes for 243 yards and one touchdown after halftime. His one interception came on a pass that ricocheted off tight end Rhett Ellison near the goal line.

“Can’t speak enough high regards to what he did,” Jennings said. “I’ve said this in the past [but] he approaches every week as though he’s the starter. So when it is his opportunity to step up and make plays, he’s ready. He prepares like a pro should every week. I can’t say enough about him. He’s a great guy to have in your back pocket.”

Cassel continued to look in sync with Jennings, in particular, in a way that has been absent with Ponder. In 2 ½ games with Cassel at quarterback, Jennings has 15 receptions for 202 yards and three touchdowns.

In 8 ½ games with either Ponder or Josh Freeman, Jennings has caught only 28 passes for 315 yards and no touchdowns.

Jennings, who signed a five-year contract worth $47.5 million this past offseason, just looks more comfortable and productive with Cassel throwing him passes.

“There’s definitely a trust factor there, and Greg is an excellent route runner,” Frazier said. “I would think maybe the veteran experience. Those guys hit it off early on back in the spring, and he really trusts Greg to be where he’s supposed to be. Not that other guys aren’t, but the fact that they are both veterans, they kind of talk a little bit off the field as well as on the field. They have a connection that sometimes happens between certain quarterbacks and certain receivers.”

In the three games that he has played with Cassel, Jennings has been targeted 23 times. Cassel threw seven passes to Jennings in the second half Sunday, including an 8-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that cut Chicago’s lead to 20-17.

Cassel noted the relationship he has formed with Jennings off the field in analyzing why those two have clicked between the lines.

“Greg and I hit it off since we got here, both coming here as free agents,” he said. “He’s such a tremendous man, he works hard, he’s a very smart football player. It’s been great for me to be around a guy like that. We just have a great relationship. We love talking football. We both have families, small children. I was just at his daughter’s birthday party [Saturday], so it’s just a lot of fun.”

Cassel has the highest passer rating (84.6) of the three Vikings quarterbacks, and he also has played in all three of their victories this season — one start, two in relief of Ponder. Cassel also is their only quarterback to pass for 240 yards in a game this season, and he’s done so three times.

Frazier noted that Cassel did a “terrific job” on Sunday, but he stopped short of naming him the starter against the Ravens. He didn’t even rule out Freeman as a possibility, though that would be surprising considering he has not played in a game since Oct. 21.

Frazier acknowledged that he has had several private discussions with Cassel about his role this season. Cassel has handled any frustration in a professional manner and resisted complaining publicly.

“I’m not always in agreement with what decision they might go,” he said. “But at the same time, you deal with those decisions. That’s probably a better question to ask Coach Frazier.”

Frazier reiterated that his decision is based on the present, not with an eye on the future.

“Up until this point, it’s been purely on who gives you the best chance to win on this Sunday, every decision that has been made regarding our quarterback position,” he said. “As we go forward, we’ll see what happens, but up to this point that’s what it’s been based on.”

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