Vikings Clear the Path for Josh Freeman to Start After Blowout Loss to Panthers

Zach KruseSenior Analyst IOctober 13, 2013

Oct 13, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman (12) sits on the sidelines in the game against the Carolina Panthers at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Panthers win 35-10. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

All signs emanating from the Minnesota Vikings' 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers Sunday point to Josh Freeman becoming the starting quarterback in Minnesota sooner rather than later. 

In fact, the Vikings gave every indication that Freeman—and not Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder—will be the most likely starter when the 0-5 Giants welcome a 1-4 Minnesota club to New York next week. 

"We'll look at it when we come back this week, and see where [Freeman] is, and make a determination as we go," Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said Sunday, via the team's official site

Not only did Cassel's turnover-prone ways return Sunday, but Minnesota also made the decision to leave Ponder on the bench in a blowout loss. Both happenings suggest that the Vikings are already clearing the runway for Freeman's first start. 

And why not? The Vikings look like a sinking ship in 2013, and neither Cassel or Ponder appear capable of captaining a recovery. Minnesota also spent $2 million to give Freeman this opportunity. The time for finding out what he has should be now. 

Freeman, 25, signed a one-year deal with the Vikings on October 6, and by the time the Vikings and Giants kick off next Monday night, the former Buccaneers quarterback will have had 15 days to digest the playbook and take first-team practice reps.

It's not an ideal situation by any means, as most quarterbacks are given months to learn and operate an offense. But nothing about the Vikings season has been ideal, and Freeman at least represents the potential of brighter days ahead. 

Cassel squandered his hold on the position with a performance that stunk of his final days in Kansas City. 

The Panthers beat up Cassel on Sunday.
The Panthers beat up Cassel on Sunday.Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

The 31-year-old quarterback tossed two picks—both on bad overthrows that eventually led to Carolina scores—and the Vikings didn't score a touchdown until the dying seconds of garbage time. His final numbers—32-of-44 passing for 241 yards—were mostly hollow and lacking substance, as the Vikings fell into a hole early and were playing catch-up the entire second half. 

Cassel's regression came just two weeks after he threw for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. Another strong showing could have put pressure on Minnesota to continue rolling with Cassel at quarterback, even with Ponder getting healthy and Freeman getting up to speed.

That opportunity might now be gone, as Cassel looked much more like the quarterback who threw 12 picks and lost seven of his last eight starts with the Chiefs

"We'll evaluate his entire body of work," Frazier said. "He has to play better. No question about it."

Ponder, who hasn't played in two weeks thanks to a broken rib suffered near his heart in Week 4, stayed glued to the sidelines despite a second-half score line that eventually ballooned to 35-3. While that decision could be medical-related, it also suggests that the Vikings want nothing to do with a situation where Ponder playing complicates the timeline for Freeman becoming the starter. 

In fact, Ponder's days as the starting quarterback in Minnesota likely ended the moment Freeman was brought aboard. Three seasons of frustratingly inconsistent play provided the Vikings an opportunity to sign Freeman, despite Ponder being a former first-round pick and his head coach continually standing by him as the starter. 

A visibly disappointed Frazier mostly sidestepped questions about who would be his starter following a fourth loss in five games to open 2013. 

"I want to go back and evaluate what Matt did in this ball game, and make a determination [on a starter] later this week," Frazier said. 

Minnesota can spin the narrative any way it wants, but the path has been cleared for Freeman to start against the Giants next week and be the starter for the immediate future.