Cool, calm Cassel solidifies his case to start

  • Article by: MATT VENSEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 17, 2014 - 1:18 PM

The veteran had a strong first half, before Teddy Bridgewater led a last-minute rally.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wanted to get an extended look at his first-team units, especially veteran quarterback Matt Cassel with the starting offense, during Saturday night’s preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.

He figured that the Cardinals, a team with a stout defense in 2013 that just missed out on the playoffs with a 10-6 record, would serve as a preseason litmus test for Cassel and the Vikings.

Zimmer’s starters would be outscored in the first half, but behind Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings rallied to win 30-28. While Zimmer was again noncommittal about his Week 1 starter, Cassel maintained a comfortable lead in the competition with another poised preseason performance.

“Matt’s doing great. He has taken charge of the football team. But I still like to compete,” Zimmer said. “They’re all getting a lot of reps. … But I think Matt has a great command of the offense. He’s getting better with it all the time. He’s making the correct throws and he’s taking care of the football. Both of them did today.”

Cassel completed 12 of his 16 attempts for 153 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 30 yards on three carries. After leading the Vikings on three scoring drives, he exited the game at halftime with a 125.3 passer rating.

The Cardinals jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but Cassel and the starters responded with a pair of scoring drives, and the veteran got them down the field not only with his arm, but his legs, as well.

After hitting Jerome Simpson on a chain-moving strike to keep the drive alive on third and long, a sea of white and red jerseys opened up for Cassel, and he scrambled down the middle of the field for a 23-yard gain.

The drive stalled inside the 10-yard line when Kyle Rudolph couldn’t catch a well-placed pass in the end zone, forcing the Vikings to settle for a field goal. But the tight end would make up for it on the team’s next drive.

Early in the second quarter, Cassel connected with Rudolph, who was open running a crossing pattern through the middle of the Arizona secondary. A key downfield block by rookie running back Jerick McKinnon, who had lined up on the left sideline as a wideout, cleared Rudolph’s final obstacle to the end zone. The 51-yard catch-and-run gave the Vikings a 10-7 lead.

Rudolph finished with four catches for 89 yards. Both where highs among the team’s starting skill position players.

While the first-team offense again looked sharp, the starters on defense did not dominate like they did in limited work a week ago during a 10-6 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

On Arizona’s opening drive, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer completed only three of his six attempts, but each of them resulted in a first down, including a 51-yard gain by rookie wide receiver Jaron Brown on a screen play.

Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer later capped off the nine-play, 93-yard touchdown drive by running the ball in from a yard out. It was the first score that Zimmer’s first-team defense allowed during the preseason.

Arizona regained the lead with 3:05 left in the first half. After Brown made an impressive leaping catch over Rhodes for a 35-yard gain, Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton found tight end Daniel Fells on fourth down for a 1-yard TD reception and a 14-10 lead.

Having seen enough, Zimmer pulled his starters on both sides of the ball at halftime, with the Vikings down 14-13.

Bridgewater entered the game at the 4:47 mark of the third quarter to mild applause from the 51,763 announced fans at TCF Bank Stadium.

He led the Vikings to a field goal on his first drive and they seized a 24-21 lead on his second when he threw his first unofficial touchdown pass in the NFL to tight end Allen Reisner.

Arizona scored late to regain the lead on a bizarre fourth-and-goal play in which the snap ricocheted off quarterback Ryan Lindley. The ensuing fumble eventually made its way to running back Zach Bauman, who ran it in for a go-ahead score.

But Bridgewater drove the Vikings back down the field and hit wide receiver Rodney Smith for the winning touchdown with 18 seconds left.

“Teddy was calm. He was smart. He got a bunch of blitzes in that whole series,” Zimmer said. “ … He made a lot of great plays there. I thought Teddy played well tonight.”

While Bridgewater, who was 16-for-20 for 177 yards and the two TDs, played better than he did during last week’s uneven preseason debut, Cassel was the more polished QB in training camp and in the two preseason games.

Zimmer has yet to name a starter for the Sept. 7 season opener against the St. Louis Rams. But Cassel showed again Saturday night that he is still the best option right now.

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Team Irvin 7:15 PM
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Miami 96 FINAL
Chicago 84
Oklahoma City 31 2nd Qtr 8:03
Cleveland 32
Dallas 5:00 PM
New Orleans
Indiana 5:00 PM
Orlando
LA Clippers 5:00 PM
Phoenix
Minnesota 5:00 PM
Atlanta
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Toronto
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San Antonio
Boston 7:00 PM
Golden State
Washington 7:00 PM
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Houston 8:30 PM
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South Florida 53 FINAL
Connecticut 66
Boston College 64 FINAL
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Virginia 50 FINAL
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Ohio State 82
Stony Brook 61 FINAL
Binghamton 54
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UCF 46
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Manhattan 71
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Marist 73
Rowan 48 FINAL
Princeton 96
St Bonaventure 48 FINAL
Rhode Island 53
Duke 72 2nd Half 1:16
St Johns 65
Saint Peters 69 FINAL
Siena 55
Drake 40 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Vermont 61 FINAL
UMass Lowell 50
Seton Hall 31 2nd Half 17:10
Butler 34
NJIT 37 2nd Half 14:55
South Alabama 40
Northern Iowa 6 1st Half 15:35
Illinois State 4
Louisville 16 1st Half 12:22
Pittsburgh 10
Niagara 3:30 PM
Iona
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NC State
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Villanova
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Villanova 81
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Florida 72
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UMBC 42
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Drexel 61
Hofstra 56 FINAL
William & Mary 57
Hartford 58 FINAL
Albany 82
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Stony Brook 67
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UNC-Wilmington 71
Wake Forest 80 FINAL
(17) Florida State 110
Georgia Tech 68 FINAL
Virginia 62
(22) Georgia 51 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 59
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Monmouth 59
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Penn State 76
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Michigan State 77
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Purdue 71
Northern Iowa 57 FINAL
Indiana State 55
Butler 50 2nd Half 4:39
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DePaul 49
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Elon 45
(2) Connecticut 71 2nd Half 12:18
Cincinnati 21
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Arizona 42
Bradley 19 2nd Half
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NC State 29 2nd Half 20:00
(23) Syracuse 26
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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