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Zulgad: Christian Ponder's ribs convenient excuse to start Matt Cassel


Christian Ponder told reporters covering the Minnesota Vikings in London that he expects to start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers despite a rib injury.

That puts him in the minority.

The Vikings have plenty of reason to attempt to save face when it comes to Ponder – which means they don’t want to announce an outright benching of the 12th-overall pick in the 2011 draft – but they also have started 0-3 and desperately need a spark.

That means there is no better time than the present to make the move to veteran quarterback Matt Cassel and see what he can do.

The Vikings’ atrocious start can’t all be blamed on Ponder but he shoulders enough of the blame that no one is going to question sending him to the sideline. (Ponder has two touchdown passes and five interceptions with a 65.9 passer rating.)

Why not take Cassel’s potential start at face value and buy into the fact Ponder is hurt?

The reports are that he injured his rib early in the Vikings’ loss to the Cleveland Browns last Sunday. That is possible but, if that was the case, then the injury couldn’t have been that severe.

Ponder finished with five scrambles for 46 yards and two touchdowns and also was sacked six times. Some will point to the fact that adrenaline carried Ponder but that will only take you so far with a rib injury.

Ben Goessling, who covers the Vikings for, pointed out that even Ponder admitted he did not know his injury was a concern until he got the news on Tuesday morning he had been hurt.

Ponder was listed as a limited participant on the team’s injury report Wednesday. If the Vikings and Ponder were playing well, head coach Leslie Frazier would have said the plan was to put protection over his quarterback’s ribs and have him start.

Instead, Frazier sounded like a man choosing his words extremely carefully on Wednesday so that when Ponder doesn’t start no one will be surprised.  “Our mindset is, we’re going to push it to the limit and see what we can do, in a smart way,” said Frazier, who earlier in the week downplayed the fact he might make any major changes.

By citing injury, the Vikings are not only attempting to protect Ponder from the headlines that he has been benched – something that Josh Freeman is going to have to overcome in Tampa Bay – but they also are creating an easy out if Cassel struggles.

The Vikings acquired a legitimate backup when they signed Cassel in the offseason but that doesn’t guarantee them he will be a big upgrade on Ponder.

Cassel was elected to the Pro Bowl after passing for 3,116 yards and 27 touchdowns, while throwing only seven interceptions, with Kansas City in 2010 but he did not manage to even reach double digits in games play the past two seasons.

The way the Vikings are managing the situation, they can see what Cassel can do on Sunday and if it doesn’t work out they can go back to Ponder and say he has recovered.  If Cassel can provide a spark, Frazier will tell reporters he’s going to remain with the hot hand as long as possible.

Eventually, this means the Vikings might have to acknowledge that Ponder has been benched and isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback.

For right now, however, it appears the Vikings don’t have any interest in facing that reality head on.


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