Cassel's performance warrants longer look

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.

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."