NFC North: 2013 Week 15 PHI at MIN

MINNEAPOLIS -- The demolition in Denver made sense. Peyton Manning at the top of his game shredded a still-learning Eagles defense in a 52-20 Broncos rout.

But the meltdown in Minneapolis? Against a Vikings team with a journeyman quarterback and without Adrian Peterson? Nobody saw that coming, and when the 48-30 beating was over, nobody seemed able to explain how a defense that held nine consecutive opponents to 21 or fewer points got dismantled so thoroughly.

“I wish I had better answers for you,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsGreg Jennings said he's confident that Norv Turner's scheme will help make the Vikings' offense more potent than in recent seasons.
“They just made more plays than we did,” Eagles safety Nate Allen said.

Matt Cassel completed his first eight passes, finishing 26-of-35 for 382 yards and two touchdowns. Greg Jennings caught 11 of those passes for 163 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown. Matt Asiata, who hadn’t touched the ball in a game all season, ran for three touchdowns.

It added up to the most points surrendered by an Eagles defense since Oct. 30, 2005, when the Broncos scored 49 points. Denver scored two special-teams touchdowns in their 52-20 win in September.

“I do not know if we were overlooking them or did not take it seriously,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “I don’t know what happened, but whatever we did was not good enough going into this game.”

The Eagles have made it a priority to avoid giving up big plays. Cassel found Jennings streaking behind Allen and Patrick Chung in the first quarter for that 57-yard score. The Eagles gave up four passes of 20 yards or more, the most they allowed since a game against Carolina last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Chung, who lost his starting job to rookie Earl Wolff earlier in the season, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman.

“Kurt has done a good job in practice,” coach Chip Kelly said. “Just trying to find out where we are since Earl has been down (with a knee injury). I think Kurt deserves some time and we’re just trying to figure out who can play.”

No one on the defense made much of a case for themselves in this game.

“We just weren’t playing tight enough coverage,” Davis said. “That’s attached to the rush, too. It’s all attached together. It’s not just the coverage giving up plays, it’s the rush that has to get there. Collectively, as a defense, we came up really short today.”

The Eagles had gotten some breaks this season. They faced Green Bay in its first game without Aaron Rodgers. That snowstorm last week helped neutralize Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. Facing a Vikings team without the injured Peterson and backup Toby Gerhart seemed like good fortune smiling on the Eagles again.

But without Peterson to lean on, Cassel was free to throw to Jennings, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Chase Ford. It begged the question of how Chicago, with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, will attack this defense.

“I don’t see it as a blueprint,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “It was mainly us. We are going to have to go back and watch the film to see what we can correct.”

They should see plenty.
Leslie FrazierAdam Bettcher/Getty ImagesLeslie Frazier led the Vikings to an impressive thumping of the Eagles but his future in Minnesota is still in doubt.
MINNEAPOLIS -- If Leslie Frazier is in his final days as the Minnesota Vikings' coach, if he's soon to pay for the Vikings' fall to last place after their surprising 2012 playoff run, he's at least doing what he has done best.

Frazier took over the 2010 Vikings after ownership fired Brad Childress with the team at 3-7. He coaxed a 3-3 finish out of the team, even after the Metrodome roof collapsed, which forced the Vikings to move two home games. A snowstorm also forced them to play another game in Philadelphia on a Tuesday night. Frazier got the interim tag removed from his title after that season, and when Adrian Peterson tore his ACL on Christmas Eve, Frazier watched his young team grind out a road win in Washington. The Vikings fell from 4-1 to 6-6 last year, only to rally for four consecutive wins in December, clinching a playoff spot on their last play of the season.

Those rallies have earned Frazier praise from players for what he does best: preach unity and coax effort out of his team in the midst of adversity, and he looks like he might be in the middle of another impressive late-season run.

The Vikings are 3-2-1 in their past six games, and without Peterson, Toby Gerhart or their top three cornerbacks on Sunday, they scored their biggest win of the season in a 48-30 thumping of the Philadelphia Eagles. That might not be enough to save Frazier's job this time, especially in light of how much adversity the Vikings have created for themselves this season.

They have shuttled through three different quarterbacks, blown five last-minute leads and played some of the most statistically porous defense in the league. Since the Vikings were 1-7, rumors have been circulating about Frazier's future, about which candidates might line up to take his place, and Sunday was no different.

NFL Network cited team sources and sources familiar with the ownership's thinking who said Frazier's future was "grim," adding the Vikings likely would target a young NFL assistant with "star power." CBS Sports said the Vikings already have approached Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. Those two reports posit two different paths for the Vikings' next coach, and there are sure to be more theories about where the Vikings could go next between now and when -- or if -- the team parts with Frazier.

The coach effectively was put on notice when the Vikings decided to pick up his 2014 option -- not offer him a long-term contract extension -- after the team's 10-6 season in 2012. Though the Vikings have little stability at what might be the two most important spots in the modern NFL (quarterback and cornerback), they'd be atop the NFC North right now if they had been able to hang onto their late leads. And Sunday, again, called into question what might have been if the Vikings had stuck with Matt Cassel all season, rather than handing starts to Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder after Cassel's first -- and to date, only -- bad game.

"We made those decisions at the time for different reasons. We always felt good about Matt but there were some things we needed to see [from Freeman and Ponder]," Frazier said. "Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get wins when we were going through the process. That would have been a lot better. We knew why were doing it back then, so hindsight is always 20/20."

If one can make the case the Vikings could be in playoff contention with their current roster -- and it certainly appears that theory is valid -- then poor decision-making by coaches often leads to them taking the fall before front office people. It has always seemed possible that could happen in Minnesota, though team president Mark Wilf and general manager Rick Spielman would not comment on a report that Spielman has been told his job is safe for 2014.

While Frazier can't reverse those last-minute collapses or the quarterback decisions now, he can make one more statement about how good he has been at getting his teams to play their hardest. He made that statement again on Sunday, and if he can do it twice more, maybe he'll scrape together enough goodwill to save his job when the chances of him keeping it appear slim.

"I think a report is a report. When your team has four wins, it's going to happen," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "I have been with Leslie for seven years out of my eight in the NFL, so there are guys here that you create good bonds with that have done a great job coaching. It's not my decision to make one way or the other, but I appreciate the things they continue to do for us to put us in the best position to get wins."
MINNEAPOLIS -- In a season full of quarterback decisions for the Minnesota Vikings, Leslie Frazier's easiest might have come after Matt Cassel played the best game by a Vikings passer since Frazier arrived in Minnesota.

Cassel completed 26 of his 35 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception, good for a Total QBR of 96.3, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A rating of 100 is perfect, and no Vikings quarterback -- not Christian Ponder, not Tarvaris Jackson, not Brett Favre -- has posted a better single-game total since Frazier came to Minnesota as defensive coordinator in 2007.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel threw for two touchdowns, ran for one and completed 26 of 35 passes for 382 yards.
Asked if there was any question about who the Vikings' starting quarterback would be against the Cincinnati Bengals next week, Frazier chuckled and said, "No. No questions. I don't think there are any questions."

In fact, the only question after Sunday's game might have been: Where would the Vikings be if Cassel had started at quarterback all season?

He has started in two of their four wins, and he replaced an injured Ponder in the other two, leading a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback two weeks ago against Chicago. Cassel is the only Vikings quarterback to throw for at least 240 yards in a game this season, and on Sunday he directed the Vikings to their biggest win of the season without the help of Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart.

Cassel led the Vikings to their first win of the season on Sept. 29 in London, got one more start after that game and ceded the job to Josh Freeman the next week. He sat for another six weeks (playing some in spot duty) after Freeman got a concussion and Ponder replaced him, and finally regained the job once Ponder got his own concussion on Dec. 1 against the Bears. He might hold onto it for the rest of the season, and it's feasible that Cassel will be the one Vikings quarterback who's with the team next year.

He can opt out of his contract after this season, but if the Vikings take a young quarterback in the draft, Cassel might be the perfect veteran to start the season, give the team a steady hand and slide into the background when the rookie is ready. The Vikings don't have a long-term commitment to him. There's not an ideological attachment to him like there would be with a first-round pick, and while he's done a solid job this season, he doesn't have the kind of long track record that would preclude the Vikings from making him the backup if they had a young passer ready to take over later in 2014. And if Cassel plays well, even better: The Vikings could give a young QB a season to develop, and make a decision about their future after 2014.

Cassel has certainly done enough to suggest he should have gotten more time than he has this season. He's made Greg Jennings look like the receiver he was in Green Bay, has developed a rapport with rookie Cordarrelle Patterson and has shown a quick-enough release to remedy some of the problems the Vikings had protecting Ponder. While he can't reverse what happened early this year, he could use the results to buy himself more time as the Vikings' starter.

"The one thing about this league and the NFL is that you never know what is going to happen," Cassel said. "I really don’t concentrate on that too much, because I think as long as you go out there, you perform, and you play well, the rest of it will take care of itself."

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

December, 15, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 48-30 win over the Philadelphia Eagles:

What it means: With no Adrian Peterson, no Toby Gerhart and none of the Vikings' top three cornerbacks, Minnesota beat the NFC East-leading Eagles at home for its most lopsided win of the season. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, the game might have at least given credence to the idea that Matt Cassel should have been the Vikings' starting quarterback for much more of the season than he's been. Cassel threw for 382 yards, helped Greg Jennings catch a career-high 11 passes and ran for a score. His future in Minnesota -- as well as the futures of the people who saw fit to keep him on the bench for so much of the season -- are bound to be tantalizing topics after this game.

Stock watch: Rising: Cassel. His 382 passing yards were the most by a Vikings quarterback since Brett Favre was under center, and he also ran for a touchdown on what was either a called run or a play that Cassel changed at the line of scrimmage. Either way, he continued to enable Jennings like no other quarterback on the Vikings' roster, and he did it without the help of Peterson, who missed the game with a sprained right foot. There's little question Cassel will start next week against Cincinnati, and he continued to make the case he should be in the Vikings' future plans, if as nothing other than a veteran caretaker until the team gets its next young quarterback ready.

Jennings comes up big: All three of Jennings' touchdowns before Sunday had come with Cassel at quarterback, but he also added his first 100-yard game since Week 17 of the 2012 season, when Jennings was playing in the Metrodome as a member of the Green Bay Packers. His 57-yard touchdown in the first quarter was a tremendous reminder of how good Jennings can be after the catch, and his success with Cassel is another factor that could cause Vikings fans to wonder what might have been if Cassel were the starter all season.

Allen closes in on double digits -- and pulls double duty: With plenty of chances to rush the passer on Sunday, defensive end Jared Allen registered two sacks of Nick Foles, giving him nine for the season. He said this week that double-digit sacks "mean the world to me," and he's now got two games to get one more and post his seventh straight season with at least 10 sacks. He also filled in at long-snapper for the first time since 2011, snapping a punt to Jeff Locke when Cullen Loeffler went out briefly with a hand injury in the second half.

What's next: The Vikings (4-9-1) travel to Cincinnati for their final road game of the season against the Bengals on Sunday.