2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Vikings QB Ponder has quietly moved past struggles

    2013-01-01 18:31

(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)
By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) - The most glaringly bad performance by Christian Ponder in a season marked by costly mistakes and curious decisions had just concluded, and the skepticism about his viability as Minnesota's quarterback was as prevalent as ever.

As for Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, well, his faith in Ponder was never clearer.

After Ponder threw two devastating interceptions in the third quarter at Green Bay that day, one in the end zone with Minnesota leading 14-10 and the other at the Packers 13-yard line with the Vikings trailing 20-14, the playoffs appeared improbable. They were 6-6 and facing a difficult four-game segment at the end of the schedule. Ponder's future as the starter looked tenuous.

So Frazier, anticipating the swirl of speculation and criticism from the analysts and the fans, sought out Ponder in the locker room at Lambeau Field to assure him the team was still behind him. Adrian Peterson gave him a pep talk, too.

``I don't want you to walk in there with any doubt about your future here as our starting quarterback,'' Frazier told Ponder before his postgame news conference. ``Next ballgame, you're going to be our starter.''

The Vikings finished with four straight wins to secure a wild card spot, and though Peterson and the defense had a lot to do with the rally they wouldn't have qualified for the postseason without improvement by Ponder. Yes, the Vikings are Peterson's team, but Ponder is ultimately the one most responsible for their progress.

``Obviously a lot has changed. I think the biggest thing for me was making better decisions,'' Ponder said. ``Obviously I made some bad decisions in that first game. It's something that I knew I had to improve upon. I think each week it's gotten better.''

First, he had to eliminate those turnovers. In victories over Chicago and at St. Louis, Ponder's efficiency improved, and his last interception of the year came Dec. 9 against the Bears. The Vikings were more conservative than usual with the pass, though, asking Ponder to do even less. Safe, short throws were about all he tried. Part of that, of course, was Peterson running wild.

The next week, though, Ponder was a more assertive passer in that 23-6 victory at Houston. The Texans were the only team to contain Peterson since October, limiting him to 86 yards on 25 rushes, so the second-year quarterback had to step up. He threw for a touchdown, finished with 174 yards and went 9 for 13 on third down, moving the chains on six of those completions. Ponder also ran more effectively than he had all season, taking off seven times for 48 yards, twice for first downs.

Then on Sunday, Ponder matched his career high with three touchdown passes, turning in his fifth turnover-free performance of the year and taking only one sack in the most important NFL game he's played in. His 65-yard completion to Jarius Wright that set up one of those scores was his longest of the season.

Without his favorite receiver since Percy Harvin's injury on Nov. 4, Ponder has had a tougher time finding open targets. But his patchwork group, while never being confused with the collection of standouts the Packers have at their disposal, has begun to give him more help. Wright, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson all made tough catches on Sunday against Green Bay.

``I don't think my confidence ever really was shaken or anything. I think it just goes back to obviously understanding what I can and can't do. I can't force things that aren't there,'' Ponder said.

He acknowledged Tuesday how much he appreciated the assurance from Frazier, Peterson and others.

``It was a tough situation and I was very hard on myself, so it was good to hear,'' Ponder said.

The passing game was so weak and the ground game so good that, for a while, Peterson was rushing for more yards than Ponder was accumulating passing. During an eight-game stretch from Oct. 21 to Dec. 16, when the Vikings went 4-4, Peterson averaged 164 yards rushing and Ponder averaged 137 passing. In the other games this season, of which the Vikings won six, Peterson averaged 98 yards and Ponder 230.

``From my perspective as the head coach, you can't be swayed by outside opinions,'' Frazier said. ``You can listen, but you've always got to make sure you're doing the best thing for the team and what gives the team the best chance to win. And for me, that was making sure that Christian knew that he had my unwavering support.''

At some point, the Vikings might face more of a crossroad about whether to stick with Ponder or find a replacement. But with only 26 career starts - Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, by comparison, has 80 - they have a lot more performance reviews to conduct.

``He's done a fantastic job these past few weeks. I thought this past game was his best,'' center John Sullivan said. ``Obviously he's taking care of the football. He's completing passes, a lot of third-down conversion and some big plays down the field. And that's all we can ask of him. He's doing his job just like everybody else is trying to do.''

Except that he's under the most scrutiny, except maybe for Peterson.

``I think he's done a great job just weathering that and continuing to play ball. It's not always going to be pretty in this league,'' linebacker Chad Greenway said. ``I think he's just going to continue to push and improve, and you can kind of see where the results are now.''

---

AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.

---

Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

---

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

David WilsonJul 31 12:01p

New York Giants RB David Wilson (neck) 'needs a miracle' from his surgeon's evaluation to be able to continue his playing career, according to a source.

David WilsonJul 31 11:52a

New York Giants RB David Wilson (neck) attended team meetings Thursday, July 31, and appeared ready to go, according to RB Rashad Jennings.

Brent UrbanJul 31 11:42a

Baltimore Ravens DE Brent Urban (knee) suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during practice Wednesday, July 30, and will miss the entire 2014 season.

Lance LouisJul 31 11:32a

Indianapolis Colts OG Jack Mewhort appears to be the leading candidate for the starting left guard job. OG Lance Louis is also considered a candidate for the job.

Donald ThomasJul 31 11:22a

Indianapolis Colts OG Donald Thomas (quadriceps) is scheduled to undergo season-ending quadriceps surgery and will be placed on the Reserve/Injured list, according to head coach Chuck Pagano.

Nick BarnettJul 31 11:12a

Free-agent LB Nick Barnett (Redskins) is still an option for the Atlanta Falcons depending on what happens with the team's linebackers. The Falcons worked out Barnett in June but did not sign him.

Josh GordonJul 31 10:42a

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon is not practicing Thursday, July 31, and presumably will miss practice Friday, Aug. 1, to attend his suspension appeal hearing.

Eric BerryJul 31 10:32a

Kansas City Chiefs SS Eric Berry (leg, foot) was carted off at practice Thursday, July 31, with a right leg or foot injury. SS Jerron McMillian has taken his place.

Jordan TodmanJul 31 09:52a

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart is expected to be spelled by RBs Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson so he doesn't reach the 300-carry plateau.

Morgan BurnettJul 31 09:42a

Green Bay Packers FS Morgan Burnett (ankle) and SS Tanner Miller (undisclosed) are not practicing Thursday, July 31.

Micah HydeJul 31 09:42a

Green Bay Packers FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is working with the first-team defense at strong safety beside FS Micah Hyde Thursday, July 31.

Lardarius WebbJul 31 09:23a

Baltimore Ravens CB Lardarius Webb (back), DE Brent Urban (knee), DT Timmy Jernigan (back), OG Will Rackley (concussion) and WR Jeremy Butler (undisclosed) are out of practice Thursday, July [ More ]

Terrell SuggsJul 31 09:03a

Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs, DT Haloti Ngata and LB Daryl Smith are not practicing Thursday, July 31.

Nate GarnerJul 31 08:53a

Miami Dolphins C Nate Garner is working with the first-team offense again Thursday, July 31, over C Shelley Smith.

A.J. HawkJul 31 01:53a

Green Bay Packers LB Brad Jones has been working ahead of LB A.J. Hawk as the lone linebacker in the dime defense in practice.

Matt CasselJul 31 01:53a

Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater saw reps with the first-team offense in practice Wednesday, July 30. According to NFL Network's Albert Breer, QB Matt Cassel appears to lead the [ More ]

Christian PonderJul 31 01:53a

Minnesota Vikings QB Christian Ponder's reps were cut during practice Wednesday, July 30.

Josh GordonJul 30 11:43p

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon is in Stage III of the NFL's substance-abuse program, and a positive test automatically triggers a one-year suspension. For Gordon, only two options exist: [ More ]

Rod StreaterJul 30 11:43p

Oakland Raiders WR Rod Streater (concussion) participated in warmups and drills Wednesday, July 30, but he sat out team sessions. Streater suffered a concussion Monday, July 28, and has [ More ]

Joique BellJul 30 10:23p

Detroit Lions RB Joique Bell (knee) missed organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp while recovering from a knee injury, but he looked good cutting and accelerating with ease during [ More ]

Rob SimsJul 30 10:23p

Detroit Lions OG Rob Sims (knee) missed organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp while recovering from a knee injury, but he held his own working against DT Nick Fairley [ More ]

Allen RobinsonJul 30 10:13p

Updating a previous report, Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Robinson (and fellow rookie WR Marqise Lee) have seen plenty of opportunity at training camp with WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring) and [ More ]

Marqise LeeJul 30 10:13p

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Marqise Lee (and fellow rookie WR Allen Robinson) have seen more reps in training camp with WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring) and WR Ace Sanders (personal) sidelined. [ More ]

Carl NicksJul 30 08:03p

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially released OG Carl Nicks (toe) Wednesday, July 30, with an injury settlement.

David WilsonJul 30 06:43p

New York Giants RB David Wilson (neck) tweeted that he is fine after leaving practice early Tuesday, July 29. Wilson said he passed all physical examinations and will find out more Monday, Aug. 3.

Jim LeonhardJul 30 05:53p

The Cleveland Browns signed SS Jim Leonhard (Bills) Wednesday, July 30. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Aldon SmithJul 30 04:43p

San Francisco 49ers LB Aldon Smith is not participating in practice Wednesday, July 30, as he attends a hearing at the Los Angeles City Attorney's office regarding an April [ More ]

Fred JacksonJul 30 04:13p

The Buffalo Bills have signed RB Fred Jackson to a one-year contract extension. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Jason GarrettJul 30 03:23p

Updating a previous report, Dallas Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence (foot) will undergo surgery for a broken foot Thursday, July 31, according to head coach Jason Garrett.

LaMichael JamesJul 30 03:03p

San Francisco 49ers RB LaMichael James (elbow) will wear a brace on his dislocated elbow and should be ready for the start of the regular season, according to head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Brent UrbanJul 30 02:23p

Baltimore Ravens DE Brent Urban (leg) and DT Timmy Jernigan (back) appear to have suffered injuries during practice Wednesday, July 30. Urban was helped off the field after suffering the injury.

Tyron SmithJul 30 02:03p

Dallas Cowboys OT Tyron Smith has agreed to terms with the team on an eight-year contract extension worth $98 million, according to a source.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group