Yes, Christian Ponder remains the starting quarterback of the Vikings. But with one caveat. He has to be healthy.
On Tuesday, coach Leslie Frazier told reporters that Ponder is the starter if healthy, and that Ponder is still injured.
With Ponder, as we’ve reported, week-to-week due to a rib fracture, the Vikings will be able to give Matt Cassel more opportunities until Ponder heals. If Cassel is still playing well — and drawing praise from teammates — after he fully heals, the Vikings will have to cross that bridge, perhaps treading lightly.
After the post-London bye, the Vikings host the Panthers before facing the Giants in New York (OK, New Jersey) on Monday Night Football. If Cassel manages wins in both games, he could be in line to continue his hot streak against the Packers the following Sunday night, on NBC.
Then, if/when Cassel stumbles, Ponder will be re-inserted, if he’s healthy.
It’s not the first time a quarterback will have lost his job due to injury. Alex Smith suffered a concussion last year, and Colin Kaepernick seized the opportunity to become the 49ers’ starting quarterback. Fifteen years ago, the Vikings applied the “100 percent rule” to quarterback Brad Johnson in order to justify keeping Randall Cunningham under center. (And if the Vikings would have flipped back to Johnson during the 1998 NFC title game, the Vikings may have made it to the Super Bowl that year.)
Frazier’s job is to win games. Cassel just won a game. Ponder was 0-3. As long as Cassel keeps winning, it will be hard to justify taking the ball out of his hands, regardless of the specific words used to justify his ongoing role.