Leslie Frazier grabbed the podium like it was a trophy, grinned and said, “How about those Vikings, huh?’’
That sentence, like this season, might be defined by the question mark at the end.
With nothing to play for and few key starters healthy, the Vikings whipped the Eagles 48-30 on Sunday at the future parking lot known as the Metrodome.
Missing their top two running backs, top three cornerbacks, top two tight ends, plus the random guard and long snapper, the Vikings beat what might be a playoff team. They outcoached a coach-of-the-year candidate and outscored this year’s hippest offense on a day when the national media began reporting — hinting? guessing? — that Frazier will be fired at year’s end.
A victory over the Eagles shouldn’t in itself alter the reality of a lost season, but if Frazier can engineer another surprising December surge, it should make the Wilfs think twice about what seemed to be two foregone conclusions.
Foregone conclusion No. 1: Frazier will be fired.
Sure, that’s possible, maybe even likely. Frazier went 3-13 in his first full season and is 4-9-1 this year. The suggestion he’ll be fired as he nears the end of his contract is logical.
But is it wise? Last year, the Vikings won their close games and made the playoffs. This year, they’ve lost a half-dozen close games and will miss the playoffs. Their losses this season have been caused by bad quarterback play and late-game defensive collapses.
You can blame Frazier for both, or you can look at the way his teams have played when he has received competent quarterbacking, and offer this suggestion: Supply Frazier with the right quarterback and coordinators, and he’s a surer bet than a coaching ‘’prospect’’ who never has run an NFL team before.
Frazier’s team has played remarkably hard. In a league in which genius coaches are invariably linked to franchise quarterbacks, Frazier has operated with one passing arm tied behind his back. He’s made plenty of questionable decisions this year, but we don’t know whether he was responding to pressure from above when he made his most important decisions regarding quarterback play.
Which leads to …
Foregone conclusion No. 2: The Vikings must use their first-round draft pick on a franchise quarterback.
Matt Cassel, playing without Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart or the Vikings’ top two tight ends, passed for 382 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. He has completed 62 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 90.7 this season.
Those numbers, projected over an entire season, wouldn’t get him to the Pro Bowl, but they would get the Vikings to the playoffs.
The Vikings have been so desperate to develop their own franchise quarterback for so many decades that, in the 2011 draft, they chose Christian Ponder in the first round because he shared some of the same attributes as elite quarterbacks, such as breathing oxygen and speaking in complete sentences.
It turns out that the Vikings would have been better off signing another Jeff George or Warren Moon than wasting a first-round pick on a quarterback.
This year, the Vikings are 2-2 when Cassel starts, with victories over Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. They are 2-7-1 when Cassel doesn't start, including the game against the Bears when he rallied the Vikings to victory over Chicago when Ponder suffered a concussion late in the second quarter. Cassel is not a franchise quarterback, but he could save the franchise from making a rash decision in the draft.
Cassel is no Lamborghini. He’s a taxicab sitting in front of a bar at 2 a.m. You don’t pick him for the thrills; you pick him to avoid making a big mistake.