Richard Martin

Bucs, Vikings Roll The Dice Over Freeman

Created on Oct. 10, 2013 4:09 AM EST

The future is now. Or maybe it’s 2014 in the Canadian Football League.

You have to give Vikings GM Rick Spielman credit: He’s not one of those guys wedded to the status quo. And he’s apparently willing to admit that his team made a mistake. 

After weeks of Viking brain-trusters said they had confidence in starting quarterback Christian Ponder, Spielman put his money where his mouth wasn’t, spending $3 million for newly cast-off Josh Freeman.

No guts, no glory. I admit that’s one cliche I like. It has a few grains of truth in it.

It’s a bold move, but it’s not going to break the bank. The team didn’t give up any draft picks. That’s not a lot of money for one year, whether Freeman starts or not.

But it’s hard to believe he won’t start. Why get the guy at all if he’s going to be a backup? 

But there I started with a question. And each question leads not to an answer but to another question. I’m not sure where to start. Here goes:

What happens to Ponder? Options include being cut, riding the pine, or still starting. It’s likely to be one of the first two. And then you have to wonder who’d pick him up if he’s let go.

Who starts next week when the Vikings play Carolina? You have to figure it’s too soon for Freeman to learn the system. The logical choice would have to be Matt Cassel, who played quite well against the Steelers.

Whose decision was this, Leslie Frazier’s or Spielman’s? You have to believe both concurred. (For the record, Frazier is one of the tightest-lipped coaches in the history of the NFL. It’s easier to pry open a bank vault than open up his mouth to actually say something substantial.)

When did the Vikings start to think Ponder wasn’t the guy? Starting this year, the team brass said in unison that he was showing improvement. Spielman even said it during a telecast in a preseason game. Of course, sometimes you wonder if people repeat something to themselves so they can start to believe something ridiculous.

You don’t get far as an executive in the league by thinking out loud. But I’d love to know what the thinking process was. Was the loss to Cleveland the last straw? 

Did team veterans such as Jared Allen go to either Frazier or Spielman and say, “You’ve got to do something. This guy Ponder’s killing us?”

Team chemistry is a volatile thing. Offenders and defenders alike can become demoralized when they believe the quarterback’s going to screw up. It doesn’t take a lot to lose your edge.

Frankly, Ponder gave off terrible vibes. I thought he was afraid to be the guy who would decide a game, and the game plans against both the Bears and Browns reflected that. The team didn’t want to try a high-risk play. (In fact, that was also true in the Steelers game.” The Vikings could’ve won both the Chicago and Cleveland games with one more first down toward the end. They played it conservatively and lost. In London, the Vikes played it conservatively and the defense came up with a play.

What about Freeman? Well, he didn’t have great stats, but they were as good as Ponder’s. 

Freeman was 43-of-z94 for 571 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Ponder was 59-of-100 for 691 yards for two touchdowns and five interceptions.

But that’s apples and oranges. The Vikings have much more offensive talent than the Bucs. Doug Martin is pretty good, but he’s not Adrian Peterson. The Vikes have a better offensive line and more weapons. The Bucs have a strong defense, and could win a low-scoring game, at least in theory.

Both the Bucs and Vikings have this in common: After a disappointing early start to the season, both teams were ready to roll the dice. 

The Vikings were 10-6 a year ago and had high hopes. Instead they lost to the Lions 34-24 and the Bears 31-30 before the horrible 31-27 loss to the Browns.

Looking back, it’s clear that the pass defense isn’t very good and the defense isn’t getting enough pressure on the quarterback. Ponder hasn’t been very good, it’s true. But he’s only part of losses that had many contributors.

The Bucs suffered two tough losses to open the season. They should’ve beaten the Jets, but Lavonte David screwed up and tackled Geno Smith out of bounds. Penalty, 15 yards, Jets make the winning field goal.

That wasn’t Freeman’s fault. 

In the second game, the Bucs didn’t show much offense, and you could blame Freeman for that. At least partly. 

But Rian Lindell missed a 46-yard field goal with a minute left that would’ve forced the Saints to get a touchdown to win. The team made 10 penalties for 118 yards — and among them was one that negated a 73-yard touchdown.

Remember, too, that the Saints are a very good team, arguably the best in the NFC. But that’s not what coach Greg Schiano was thinking.

Schiano, who said after the loss that he and the team were “resilient,” proved otherwise. He panicked after the third loss, to New England.

Again, Freeman wasn’t very good. But let’s remember that the Patriots are not bad. 

Instead, Schiano panicked. He couldn’t get Freeman out of town fast enough. It’s numbingly stupid to let a quarterback go without anything in return. 

Schiano, you may recall, was the guy who wanted his defensive players to get after the opponent’s quarterback when he’s in kneel-down mode. 

Every guy who went out for sports knew a coach like that. Maybe he spurred his basketball players to get into fights to prove their toughness. (Fine for football, not for basketball. What if Kevin Durant, Pete Maravich or Jerry West had been on the team?)

He’s the kind of coach who gives the halftime speech that has no connection to reality. You wanted to say, “Coach, I gave it everything I had. That guy was just too fast.”

Tough, stupid guys finish last. You wouldn’t find Bill Belichick pulling a move like that. It’s the kind of move Les Steckel made when he was coach of the Vikings in 1984. (He had a Marine Corps-like camp, but the team went 3-13.)

The Bucs are a lost cause. Mike Glennon, Freeman’s replacement, blew the Cardinals game all by himself by throwing two late interceptions. 

But did Rick Spielman give up on Ponder too early?

I doubt it. Still, little’s certain in the league.

Wouldn’t it be unbelievable if the Bucs tapped Ponder as their next quarterback?

No. Very little’s impossible in the NFL.

But I’m going to go on a limb. Schiano will be fortunate to last the season. Next year, if he’s lucky, he’ll get a gig as offensive coordinator for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders, Montreal Alouettes or Toronto Argonauts.

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