Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier announced a change in starting quarterbacks for the fourth time in 13 games. And that doesn't count the number of weeks that Frazier also weighed his starting options and stuck with the inconsistent Christian Ponder.
Matt Cassel, who just weeks ago was excluded by Frazier from competing with Ponder and Josh Freeman for the starting job, is back in for at least one start when the Vikings (3-8-1) travel to Baltimore (6-6) on Sunday. Ponder is out for at least one week after suffering more symptoms on Wednesday from the concussion that knocked him out of Sunday's 23-20 overtime win over the Bears.
Cassel is 1-1 as a starter this season, having looked really good in a win over Pittsburgh in London in Week 4 and really bad in a loss to Carolina at home in the team's next outing.
"Part of (the reason for Cassel starting this week) is what he did in the second half of that ballgame on Sunday," said Frazier, referring to a second half in which Cassel led the Vikings back from a 20-10 deficit with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass and a last-minute, game-tying field goal drive in regulation.
"Also, seeing (Cassel's) comfort level with where we are, and having a comfort level with him, as well. But his work on Sunday has a lot to do with it. He did an outstanding job."
Waiting to see what happens at quarterback from week to week has become an all-too-familiar theme for the Vikings. So, naturally, the starter for the Eagles game a week from Sunday at Mall of America Field is anyone's guess at this point.
"Well, you're always graded on performance," Frazier said. "So if (Cassel) performs, we'll sit down and talk about it Monday and make a determination from there."
When Ponder broke a rib against the Browns in Week 3, Cassel started Week 4 against the Steelers. He threw for two touchdowns in a turnover-free victory and kept the job. But he lost it to Josh Freeman a week later after throwing two interceptions in a 35-10 loss to Carolina.
Freeman's only action as a Viking came during his lone start at the Giants on Oct. 21, 14 days after he was signed. He completed just 20 of 53 passes (37.7 percent) in a nightmarish performance as the Vikings lost 23-7 and didn't score a point offensively.
Freeman suffered a concussion in that game and hasn't played since. Talking about his upcoming No. 2 role in Baltimore, Freeman tried to help explain to reporters why he hasn't seen the field since the Giants game.
"An NFL offense - and I know you guys haven't been around them -- but they're pretty complex," he said. "There are different layers. There's stuff that they might've run earlier in the year that's a pretty hard concept that they just installed for the certain week. There's a lot to take in, and it's been fun learning it.
"f course, as a competitor I want to play. But I'm a guy that's just going to work my butt off until that opportunity comes."
To their credit, none of the Vikings quarterbacks has been consumed by frustration despite a disastrous situation that's continued to linger all season.
"You only get as frustrated as you let yourself get frustrated," Cassel said. "Each and every day I've tried to work hard, I've tried to stay in the right mind frame because I think anything other than that it takes away from doing your job."
SERIES HISTORY: 5th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 2-2. The Ravens are 2-1 in Baltimore, having won the last meeting there, 30-23, in 2005. The last time these teams met, the Vikings won 33-31 at the Metrodome in 2009.
--Erin Henderson is back in the starting lineup two weeks after missing a game for personal reasons related to a DWI arrest and a week after he officially lost the starting middle linebacker job to second-year pro Audie Cole.
Henderson will move back to the weak-side linebacker job that he played before moving to the middle this past offseason. He doesn't view it as a demotion after a less-than-stellar 10 games in the middle.
"I have a lot of things to be happy about and thankful for aside from all the naysayers and haters and everybody else who's had different things to say about me throughout the year," he said. "Sometimes I let it get to me and get me down too much. I've come to grips with it and come to terms with it and I'm able to look at myself and know the man that I am and accept it.
"I go out there every Sunday and I play my guts out," he added. "So when you get some negative feedback it can be kind of a tough pill to swallow. But then you learn some of those people are idiots, sitting behind computers and phones saying whatever they want to say and you can't give it too much credit."
--Cornerback Chris Cook revealed Wednesday that the NFL has fined him $26,250 for making contact with an official and being ejected after giving up a 46-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter of Sunday's 23-20 overtime win over the Bears.
"My agent already appealed it," Cook said.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wasn't happy that Cook let the team down by not being able to finish Sunday's game. The two spoke on Wednesday about the situation.
"I know I have to keep my composure," Cook said. "I was just frustrated with some things in the game and lost my composure. I can guarantee it will not happen again."
Cook said he was most upset about what he thought was offensive pass interference on Alshon Jeffery two plays before he was ejected.
"I know it was pass interference, but I'm not a referee, so it's not my call to make," Cook said. "The ball was literally falling into my lap and my arm was being grabbed and I couldn't get my arm up. I was frustrated about that, and they turn around and score and it made me even more mad. I let my emotions get the best of me. I know I can't act like that, especially towards an official."
As for making contact with the official, Cook said it was minor.
"I kind of touched his arm, but it wasn't really like I was trying to push him on the ground or something," Cook said. "They made it seem like I was trying to push him on the ground. But I just got up and said, 'That was bull' about the play a few plays before. But I can't really do anything about what they call within the game. I have to be a man about it and move on to the next play."
BY THE NUMBERS:246 -- Yards that tight end John Carlson has had the past four weeks while filling in for the injured Kyle Rudolph as the team's primary pass-catching tight end. That's the second-highest total behind New England's Rob Gronkowski's 276.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I told my wife, 'You can never shave after a win. She told me she's going to (shave) me in the middle of the night. So we'll see what happens here over the next week." -- QB Matt Cassel, describing why he's still sporting the throwback Fu Manchu mustache that he grew during "Movember."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Xavier Rhodes has 16 passes defensed, which ranks second in Vikings history by a rookie. The most by a rookie is 19 by Orlando Thomas in 1995.
--RB Adrian Peterson has 1,208 yards rushing. That's more than 10 NFL teams have entering Week 14.
--DE Jared Allen had a sack against the Bears. He has six on the season and needs four more to avoid a single-digit sack season for the first time since 2006, his third year with Kansas City.
--RB Toby Gerhart, who had 15 carries the previous two weeks, had only two carries against the Bears. He had eight yards, giving him 194 on 21 carries this season.
--DB Robert Blanton, who has moved into the nickel slot role with Josh Robinson injured, leads the team with 17 special teams tackles. Larry Dean is second with 13, followed by 11 by S Andrew Sendejo and LB Michael Mauti.
--QB Christian Ponder (concussion) left last Sunday's game with a concussion and experienced more symptoms on Wednesday. He will be replaced as the starter by Matt Cassel, who played well while leading the team back from a 20-10 fourth-quarter deficit to an overtime win.
--LB Chad Greenway (wrist) revealed that he's been playing with fractures in his right wrist for more than a month. He hasn't missed a practice or a game, but says not being able to grip with that hand has affected his play.
--TE Kyle Rudolph (foot) fractured his left foot in the Dallas game on Nov. 3 and could return to practice later this week. The No. 1 tight end job has fallen to John Carlson. Carlson is similar but not quite as good as Rudolph.
--CB Josh Robinson, the second-year pro who had struggled in trying to replace the departed Antoine Winfield, missed his second straight game and could miss the rest of the season because of a fractured sternum. The Vikings are still holding out hope that he will return late in the season. Robinson had gotten better of late, but still has a long way to go. Rookie first-round draft pick Xavier Rhodes replaced Robinson and has played well the past two weeks.
--S Harrison Smith (turf toe) hasn't played since the fifth game and is on injured reserve with designation to return. He's eligible to return for the final three games. He returned to practice last Friday and is ahead of schedule.
--LB Larry Dean (knee) did not practice on Wednesday. He's the team's leader on special teams. He's a sound tackler and blocker. He would be missed on special teams.
--SS Jamarca Sanford (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. The Vikings can't afford to lose him this week since the other team's starting safety, Harrison Smith, isn't eligible to come off injured reserve until next week. Losing Sanford this week would most likely put Mistral Raymond back on the field. He's had a terrible season filling in for safeties. He takes bad angles and misses tackles.
GAME PLAN: As well as the Ravens play at home, particularly defensively, the Vikings can't afford any turnovers.
Whether it's Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel or Josh Freeman under center, the Vikings will, once again, lean on Adrian Peterson, fullback Jerome Felton and some two tight-end sets to pound the ball down the field.
It won't be nearly as easy as it was the past two weeks against Green Bay and Chicago, however. The Ravens rank No. 6 in run defense and are much more physical. The Vikings also will try to keep expanding the role of rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. He lined up at tailback last week and ran 33 yards for a touchdown.
Defensively, the Vikings will continue their shift to more blitzes and press coverage. Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes has shown the past couple weeks that press man coverage is his strength. And, let's face it, at 3-8-1, what do the Vikings have to lose by playing more aggressively on defense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Vikings K Blair Walsh vs. Ravens K Justin Tucker -- After one tie, two overtimes and more than 148 minutes of football the past two weeks, this week's game very well could come down to a kick in overtime. These second-year players are the two most accurate kickers in NFL history. Tucker (92.2 percent) ranks No. 1 and has made an NFL-best 27 consecutive field goal attempts. Walsh, last year's All-Pro pick, is at 90.5 percent. But he's already missed as many attempts (three) this year as he did all last season. Still, Walsh has made 22 of 25 a year after making 35 of 38.
--Vikings RB Adrian Peterson and FB Jerome Felton vs. Ravens ILB Daryl Smith and SS James Ihedigbo -- Last Sunday, the Vikings leaned on Felton for 38 snaps because they wanted to simply line up and blast the Bears with an extra 250-pound blocker and, of course, Peterson. It worked. Of Peterson's 211 rushing yards, 112 of them came before he made contact with a defender. Felton was a huge part of that with one of his best games as a Viking, including last year's All-Pro season. Felton spent a lot of plays slamming into the middle linebacker or kicking out the strong safety. The Ravens have adjusted defensively without Ray Lewis, ranking 10th overall and sixth against the run. Lewis has a team-high 95 tackles while Ihedigbo is second with 72.
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