Sunday, November 17, 2013
Vikings: Is it now or never for Freeman?
By Ben Goessling
SEATTLE -- For the past month, after Josh Freeman started his time in Minnesota with an ugly performance on "Monday Night Football" and ended his night with a concussion, the Vikings have stuck with Christian Ponder at quarterback. And at various times during that stretch -- particularly with the way he played during the Vikings' Nov. 7 win against the Washington Redskins -- Ponder has justified the Vikings sticking with him.
That stretch continued until about the start of the third quarter on Sunday in Seattle, when Ponder followed another solid start with one of his worst halves of football with the Vikings. He hit four of his nine passes in the second half, throwing for 15 yards and getting picked off twice -- including one interception the Seahawks returned for a touchdown. Ponder was lifted for Matt Cassel with just over 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, which meant he needed only 18 minutes of football to get benched after completing all seven passes he threw in the second quarter. And if the Vikings, now at 2-8, go back to Ponder for next Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, it might say more about what they think of Freeman than anything else.
If Josh Freeman doesn't get his chance to start next Sunday, it could send a strong message about what the Vikings think of him.
Freeman was inactive again on Sunday, with Cassel backing up Ponder in the loss. Freeman hasn't seen the field since his 20-for-53 showing against the New York Giants on Oct. 21, and the only other time he was active came against the Redskins, simply because the Vikings had more injured players than they had spots on their inactive list. Ponder was coming off a dislocated shoulder after the Redskins game, and yet Freeman said he had a hunch during the week he didn't have much of a shot to play.
"Kind of throughout the week, as far as reps and things like that, you get a good feel," Freeman said. "But come Sunday, it's whether you have pads in the locker or not. I had a pretty good idea. Last week, we had a couple guys down, and as far as numbers, there was a spot. But it's about the same."
Cassel could be wondering, too, why the Vikings seem to regard him as a backup regardless of who's starting, but he came to Minnesota under the premise of backing up Ponder. The Vikings talked about getting Freeman ready to play when they signed him in October, though general manager Rick Spielman said this month that the Vikings didn't necessarily need to see Freeman play to evaluate him, reminding reporters the team scouted Freeman heavily when he was coming out of college and had four years of tape on him from his time in Tampa Bay.
They've been working to correct some flaws they see in his footwork, and Freeman said he's notably more comfortable in the offense now than he was a month ago. If he doesn't get his chance after a game like the one Ponder played Sunday, it could send a strong message about what the Vikings think of him.
"It's not going to change my approach. It's not going to change my attitude," Freeman said about how he'd react if he didn't get a chance to start. "I'm going to be the best Josh Freeman I can possibly be for this team, whether that's on the field or whether that's working with guys in practice and coming out and getting my two cents as far as watching the defense during games."