Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
The Vikings fell to 1-4 with an uninspired and lifeless 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Mall of America Field. The Carolina Panthers also came into the game at 1-3, but they dominated the Vikings in every facet.
The Vikings performance was as bad as the score suggests. The offense failed to build on what it showed in a victory against Pittsburgh in London before the bye. Matt Cassel threw two interceptions on two badly overthrown passes.
His struggles likely clear the way for Josh Freeman to start against the New York Giants next week if he's comfortable enough with the offense.
The Vikings defense continued to struggle and had no answer for the Panthers running game or Cam Newton's passing. One play in particular summed up their performance.
On the opening possession of the second half, cornerback Josh Robinson was playing zone while rookie Xavier Rhodes played man, and the busted coverage resulted in a 79-yard touchdown catch by Brandon LaFell. That gave the Panthers a 21-3 lead and the rout was on.
Christian Ponder told reporters after Thursday's practice that he's been medically cleared to play and that he's been told the decision by the coaching staff, although he deferred to Coach Leslie Frazier to deliver that news.
It wasn't hard to read between the lines that Matt Cassel will start Sunday against Carolina with Ponder serving as the backup.
"I’ll let Coach Frazier address that," Ponder said. I don’t know when he’s going to do it. But in regards to today, we split some reps and then it’s Coach Frazier’s call."
A few minutes later, Frazier told reporters that he wants to wait until after Friday's practice before choosing his starting quarterback.
Frazier was told that Ponder revealed that he's already been told and that his body language and tone made it clear he wasn't the starter.
"I think you'd have to go by what you think," Frazier said. "I don't want to read into what he said. I wasn't here when he said it. I want to see how they do tomorrow. That will help me clear up some things."
Ponder noted that "some of the dynamics of this organization have changed" this week with the arrival of Josh Freeman, who presumably will take over as the starter as soon as he's comfortable with the offense.
"It’s a waste of energy and thought to think about what could happen and what might not happen," Ponder said in regards to his future. "I’m just trying to enjoy these moments because life in the NFL doesn’t last long, whether you have a long career for 15 years. But when you look at it in life, 15 years out of – say – 90 years is a short window, so you got to enjoy every minute of it, even when things aren’t going the best. And I’m going to see how it plays out. It’ll be interesting to see."
Asked if he would welcome a trade, Ponder said, "a trade would be difficult to deal with."
Ponder acknowledged how difficult the past two weeks have been personally.
"I would be lying if I didn’t say it’s a little disappointing and frustrating," he said. "But I’m not going to get too discouraged about it. I’m a man of faith and I know God is in control. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what the next few weeks, few months hold. We’ll see how everything plays out. But I’m working on a lot of things during practice and trying to get better as a quarterback."
The Vikings waived No. 3 quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson on Tuesday to make room for Josh Freeman.
Bethel-Thompson seemed like an obvious choice because it's hard to imagine the team carrying four quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.
Bethel-Thompson has practice squad eligibility so he could return if he clears waivers. The Vikings would love to retain Bethel-Thompson on the practice squad so they can continue to develop him. He has a strong arm but he's still pretty raw after missing a lot of playing time in college because of various injuries.
The Vikings return to work Monday morning from their bye week. Few would have guessed under these circumstances, though.
The team signed free agent quarterback Josh Freeman to a one-year contract worth $3 million late Sunday night and he is expected to arrive in the Twin Cities sometime today. Not sure if he will make it in time to participate in practice, which starts at 10:50 a.m. central.
This move obviously brings many questions about their suddenly crowded quarterback position and hopefully we'll get some clarity when Coach Leslie Frazier meets with reporters after practice.
Freeman must get up to speed with the offense, which would make it difficult for him to start Sunday against Carolina. Matt Cassel still seems like the logical choice to start because he played well in relief of Christian Ponder against Pittsburgh in guiding the Vikings to their first victory.
The Vikings were hopeful last week that Ponder will be able to practice this week after missing the London game because of a fractured rib.
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings frame Ponder's future in their public comments. The fact that they were aggressive in pursuing Freeman indicates that Ponder's tenure is nearly over. And regardless of what is said publicly, Freeman is clearly coming here with the intention of being the starter.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier addressed his quarterback situation today and his plans remain as vague and confusing as they were immediately after Sunday's 34-27 victory against the Steelers in London.
Frazier said Christian Ponder (fractured rib) remains the starter, if healthy. But Frazier also left the door open for Matt Cassel to remain the starter for the Carolina game after the bye after he played well in relief on Ponder.
"Christian is still injured, but he's our starting quarterback," Frazier said. "We'll see how he does coming out of the bye."
Frazier was then asked if Ponder is healthy does he remain he starter?
"We'll talk about a lot of things when we get to next week," Frazier said. 'We'll see what happens when we get to next week."
Frazier was asked if he's worried about fan reaction inside the Metrodome next week if Ponder is the starter.
"I don't think our fans would be upset," Frazier said. "They just want the Vikings to win. We've got great fans. They want the best for our football team. They've been so supportive throughout, I would expect our fans to be cheering for everybody that's wearing purple when we get back home."
Frazier acknowledged that the offense functioned efficiently with Cassel at the controls. Asked how much that had to do with Cassel's presence, Frazier said, "I think a lot of it had to do with Matt. Getting the ball out on time, being able to get us out of runs and execute when we had some eight-man fronts in the passing game. I think a lot of it had to do with his execution as a quarterback."
That led to a natural follow-up question: Then why not stick with him as the starter?
"We'll talk about a lot of things [but] it's more than one ball game," Frazier said. "He did a good job. I don't want to take anything away from what Matt did. We'll try and do what's best for our team and if we thought that Matt gave us the best chance to beat Carolina, then we'd approach that situation as well. But if Christian is healthy, we'll take a look at what we need yo do."
The Vikings rank last in the NFL in pass defense and have issues at cornerback. I asked Frazier if the team is considering bringing Antoine Winfield back or at least work him out to see if he's healthy enough to rejoin the team.
"We've talked about a lot of things," Frazier said. "We've got a little beaten up in the secondary. We knew going in we'd have some new guys playing some positions where there would be some growing pains along the way and we're experiencing some of that. But we've got to keep bringing them along and keep hoping that they'll improve, which they are. They are improving in some areas. This bye week should help us but we've talked about a lot of things and ways that we can try and help our secondary."
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