Vikings win preseason opener: Cassel tightens grip on QB job
MINNEAPOLIS - The guy for the Vikings won the battle of castoff quarterbacks named Matt. But more important, Matt Cassel took another step Friday night toward solidifying a spot as Minnesota's starting quarterback.
Although Cassel played just the opening series in a 10-6 win over Oakland in the preseason opener at TCF Bank Stadium, he was impressive. He went 5 of 6 for 62 yards and led the Vikings to a 1-yard touchdown run by Matt Asiata that gave them the lead for good.
While both of Minnesota's Matts were looking good early, Matt Schaub didn't show much as the Raiders' starting quarterback. He completed just 3 of 7 passes.
Cassel is trying to hold off rookie Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job. Bridgewater, taken with the No. 32 pick in last May's draft, was just so-so in his debut.
Bridgewater completed 6 of 13 passes for 49 yards and was sacked twice. He did have a nice 21-yard completion to Greg Jennings wiped out by penalty on his first attempt and had some balls fall incomplete that could have been caught.
Bridgewater must indisputably beat out Cassel in the preseason to be the starter in the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at St. Louis. And Cassel on Friday indisputably played better than Bridgewater.
Friday marked the debut for first-year coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings' first appearance of a two-year stay at TCF Bank Stadium, where the team will play until a new indoor stadium is ready to open in 2016 in downtown Minneapolis. An enthusiastic near-sellout crowd of 51,752 was on hand.
The defense was strong as the Vikings came within two minutes of recording their first preseason shutout since a 28-0 win over Houston on Sept. 1, 2011. Zimmer was a longtime defensive coordinator before getting his first head position last January.
The offense was strong early as Cassel led the Vikings downfield on their first drive. He had completions of 17 yards to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and of 22 yards to tight end Kyle Rudolph before Asiata scored.
When Bridgewater entered the game for Minnesota's second series, fans chanted "Teddy, Teddy.'' He did lead the Vikings to a field goal by Blair Walsh on his first drive. He gave way to Christian Ponder after the first series of the second half.
Minnesota's rookie star Friday was running back Jerick McKinnon, a third-round pick. With Adrian Peterson sitting out for precautionary reasons, Asiata got the start before McKinnon came on to gain 45 yards on 12 carries.
Minnesota's other first-round pick, linebacker Anthony Barr, also looked good. He started, and in the first half had a half-sack.
While he isn't technically a rookie due to spending last year on the practice squad, Minnesota wide receiver Adam Thielen shined and helped his chance to make the 53-man roster. Thielen returned three punts for 52 yards, had a nice tackle on a punt return and caught a pass for 15 yards.
Injuries continued to plague the Vikings at safety. Jamarca Sanford sat out due to an apparent back ailment and Robert Blanton was out with a strained hamstring. In the first quarter, Mistral Raymond was lost for the remainder of the game with concussion-like symptoms.
Kurt Coleman started at strong safety, and had an interception. At left cornerback, Captain Munnerlyn, who is battling Josh Robinson for the starting job, got the start.
After scoring 10 points in the first quarter, the Vikings didn't score the rest of the game. Walsh missed a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter, continuing the drop-off he has had on field-goal attempts of 50 or more yards. After making an NFL-record 12 straight from that range to start his career, Walsh missed his final three last season.
The Vikings preserved the shutout when linebacker Gerald Hodges blocked a 44-yard field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter by Kevin Goessling. But Matt McGloin got the Raiders on the board with a 10-yard touchdown run with 1:25 left.
The Vikings won their preseason opener for the first time since 2010. Their next preseason game is next Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals.
By Chris Tomasson, St. Paul Pioneer Press
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