LONDON -- Backup quarterback Matt Cassel will start the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in place of Christian Ponder, whom coach Leslie Frazier revealed Friday has a fractured rib.
Ponder, who ranks 30th in the NFL in passer rating (65.9), suffered the injury in the second quarter of last weekend's loss to the Cleveland Browns and struggled with accuracy late. He underwent a CT scan Monday that revealed the fracture, but tried to practise the past two days.
"He's a tough, tough guy, but it probably wouldn't be wise to put him in that situation," Frazier told reporters. "We have complete confidence that Matt will do a good job, our players are going to support him and he'll be the guy that will be leading us to victory on Sunday evening."
According to Ponder, the fracture is near his heart, and doctors are concerned about him taking another hit even with the additional protective padding he wore under his jersey in practice. The Vikings have a bye in Week 5, and Ponder expects to be ready for Week 6 against Carolina.
If Cassel plays well, though, the Vikings -- who, like the Steelers, enter the international series matchup at 0-3 -- might be compelled to stick with the hot hand.
"I'm not really looking ahead, to be completely honest," Cassel told reporters. "I just found out this morning. For me, it's really about going out there, being accountable to my teammates and hopefully, getting out of here with a win this weekend."
The home crowd booed Ponder, 25, during last week's game and chanted for Cassel, 31, who has 62 NFL starts with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. Cassel signed what amounted to a one-year, $3.7 million contract in March and was told from the outset he'd be Ponder's backup.
"I don't foresee a quarterback controversy," Frazier said. "But we want (Cassel) to play lights-out -- want him to have the best game of his NFL career on Sunday."
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Before the news was revealed, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said at a media conference he hasn't looked at much tape on Cassel, who has started against Pittsburgh three times, completing 47.4 per cent of his passes for 571 yards with two touchdowns, three interceptions and a 60.5 passer rating.
"Obviously, I'm familiar with Matt," Tomlin said. "He's played against us in the past. I've been more focused on what they're doing with Christian Ponder and what they do schematically as an offense.
"Obviously, if he can't play, there will be some adjustments -- some minor adjustments. But we'll cross the bridge when we come to it. I would imagine they want Christian Ponder to play if he's at all capable."
-- USA Today