BALTIMORE -- The Minnesota Vikings' remote chances of making the playoffs for a second straight season officially died on Sunday, when they watched another last-minute lead evaporate in M&T Bank Stadium's snowy west end zone. That means they will play their final three games with nothing at stake other than their draft positioning, and if they haven't had a consequence-free environment in which to evaluate their quarterbacks, they have one now.
That could give the Vikings reason to put Josh Freeman on the field for a game or two. Or they could go back to Christian Ponder once he is cleared to return from a concussion. Matt Cassel, though, made another case that he is the man who can run the Vikings' offense most efficiently on Sunday.
He hit just 17 of his 38 passes, but threw for 265 yards -- the most by a Vikings quarterback this season -- and connected on two touchdown pases that put the Vikings ahead in the fourth quarter. Cassel found Jerome Simpson in the back of the end zone early in the final period, and hit Cordarrelle Patterson on a screen pass that the rookie took 79 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought he did some good things," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He battled. He kept giving us a chance throughout the ballgame under some tough conditions against a good defensive team."
Frazier did not say who will start next Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, and that decision could take his coaching staff some time to figure out this week, if Ponder is ready to go and Freeman factors into the final three games of the season.
But Cassel might have as good an argument as any of the quarterbacks, with the way he's run Minnesota's offense the past two weeks.
"I would like to start every week, but then again, as you well know, it's not my decision," he said. "All I can do is try to get myself ready and be ready to play every week. Then I need to make the most of my opportunity."