By Craig Schroepfer
Last week in Baltimore, the Minnesota Vikings were eliminated from playoff contention when the Ravens defeated them 29-26. The loss made official what most people had already suspected, that the Vikings would not be making a return trip to the post-season.
With the fate of the 2013 season being determined the question became: what is there left to play for in the season?
After Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, we have an answer to the question and the answer is a lot.
In what is the best effort put forth by Minnesota during the 2013 season, the Vikings rolled over an Eagles team with post-season visions of their own, defeating them 48-30.
Making his fourth start of the season at quarterback, Matt Cassel played his best game while wearing purple throwing for 382 and two touchdowns. Cassel was playing with a swagger that hasn’t been seen at the quarterback position for most of the season. He was making throws with confidence and putting the ball in places where only his receivers could catch them.
Nobody benefited more with Cassel under center than wide receiver Greg Jennings who had his best game wearing purple, catching 11 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown. Invisible for most of the season, when Cassel is under center Jennings looks like the all-pro the Vikings thought they were getting when they signed him as a free agent from Green Bay.
The most amazing part of Sunday’s win was that the Vikings put up 48 points without their top two running backs, Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. With both players out with injuries Matt Asiata made the most of his first NFL start, rushing for 51 yards on 30 carries and scoring three touchdowns. It was an emotional day for Asiata who lost his father earlier in the season and said after the game he felt his father’s presence with him.
In the Vikings locker room I noticed a common theme and that’s how the team is showing that they haven’t given up on the season.
“Playing for the guy next to you has been the biggest message,” linebacker Chad Greenway said after the game. “The guys you’ve sweated with since early July and continue to put pressure on to play well. It’s the correct message and a way to keep guys accountable.”
Cassel also added after the game “I’ve been on a lot of teams and some of those teams have struggled. I think this locker room, more than any other team I’ve been on that’s struggling, has stuck together. The attitude’s been great, we have good camaraderie and great leadership. Nobody is laying down for anything, we are still playing for something. We are going to go and try to end this season on a high note with three wins.”
Sunday’s win showed there is still plenty to play for in 2013. For Cassel, it’s a chance to be the starting quarterback for the Vikings in 2014. I’m not saying Cassel is the answer under center but his play could be enough where Minnesota can focus on fixing their defense and not have to worry about spending a first round pick on a quarterback.
For Asiata, Sunday proved that he can be a serviceable running back in the NFL. Yes he was used in a limited role but he made the most of his carries. Toby Gerhart is a free agent at the end of the season and if he doesn’t return it wouldn’t surprise me if Asiata becomes the number two running back behind Adrian Peterson.
For head coach Leslie Frazier, Sunday’s game shows that the Vikings haven’t quit on the season. Frazier’s contract is up at the end of the year and no one knows for sure if he is coming back as head coach. As long as Minnesota is still playing hard and competing, then that has to play a factor in the decision.
It may be too late to do anything about the 2013 season, but it doesn’t hurt to get a head start on 2014.