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Vikings take one step forward, two back

January 8, 2009

Here they are again, about to spend yet another year watching the Super Bowl from home.

The Minnesota Vikings made a number of positive strides in the offseason but the question still remains at the same, most important, position on the field - quarterback.

Now, many fans may claim that there is no question with third-year quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson. After losing 26-14 to the Philadelphia Eagles in the opening round of the playoffs, his time is done. But the fact of the matter is that there is still question.

This was supposed to be the year where Jackson was given the opportunity to sink or swim as a starting quarterback, but instead was riding the pine after just two games into the season, eliminating him from having the chance to prove himself.

He then comes in and impresses people by closing out the season with wins over Detroit, Arizona and the reigning Super Bowl champion New York football Giants.

Was this enough to ensure a starting position for next season? I would hope not. But was his poor performance in the playoffs enough for him to lose it, of course not.

Looking at young quarterbacks under the playoff spotlight this season, they all fell under the pressure. The AP Rookie of the Year, Matt Ryan for the Atlanta Falcons, folded like a lawn chair by throwing two interceptions, being sacked in the end zone and giving up a fumble for a touchdown on a botched handoff in the Falcons' 30-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Joe Flacco completed just 39 percent of his passes for 135 yards one rushing touchdown, riding his defense - who picked off Miami Dolphins quarterback four times, one of which returned for a touchdown - for a 27-9 win. Flacco made his mark in the record books as the only rookie quarterback to start a complete season and win a game in the postseason, proving that throughout history, quarterbacks NEED experience when enduring that type of pressure.

Jackson went on to become yet another statistic of young quarterbacks who folded under the pressure.

Jackson finished the game an abysmal 13-of-35 for 164 yards and his only touchdown pass went to banged-up Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel, who picked off a floating pass from Jackson in the second quarter to give the Eagles their first touchdown of the game.

In order for Minnesota to be a Super Bowl-caliber team next year, they will need a quarterback. Now that isn't excluding Jackson from the equation, but head coach Brad Childress will need to find someone to at least push Jackson for the starting position.

A young quarterback still in question cannot be handed the team like he was this season. I still stand by the Vikings decision to pass on trying to obtain Brett Favre last season, because Favre's erratic and inconsistent play throughout the season would have wreaked havoc in the Vikings' organization.

Minnesota needs a consistent quarterback who will do his job, not throw up prayers into triple coverage, expecting wide receivers to come down with the ball. Minnesota needs someone who will throw 20 to 25 times a game and stick to a west-coast style offense.

Matt Cassel has gotten some attention after his outstanding performance stepping in when starting quarterback Tom Brady went down, but if Brady isn't healthy by training camp, you better believe New England will slap the franchise tag on him quicker than you can say, "spy-gate."

But if the Vikings attempt to get Cassel, that would be the type of quarterback Minnesota needs: a young guy who give Jackson legitimate competition for the staring position.

Cassel's performance last season would land him a starting position with any team, but I still want to see how he performs without having the opportunity to throw to a Hall of Fame-caliber wide receiver in Randy Moss and arguably the best slot receiver in the game with Wes Welker.

Remember, Moss made even Gus Frerotte look good when he stepped in for Daunte Culpepper in 2003, so Cassel still has to show he can be effective with the Minnesota receiving corps.

But it's almost deja vu from last year as the Vikings enter another offseason waiting to see who will be the answer at the quarterback position. The worst thing about it is that the "Quarterback of the Future" is another year older and still hasn't seen adequate playing time to prove his role.



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