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

Ryan SuccopSep 1 04:22p

The Tennessee Titans signed free-agent PK Ryan Succop (Chiefs) to an undisclosed deal and released PK Travis Coons Monday, Sept. 1.

Josh ScobeeSep 1 11:43a

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Robinson (hamstring), DT Sen'Derrick Marks (shoulder), PK Josh Scobee (quadriceps) and OT Zane Beadles (undisclosed) are practicing Monday, Sept. 1.

Larry DonnellSep 1 11:43a

New York Giants TE Larry Donnell is the starting tight end on the team's unofficial depth chart. TE Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson are second- and third-string, respectively.

Quintin DempsSep 1 11:23a

New York Giants SS Quintin Demps is the lead kick returner, while WR Preston Parker is the lead punt returner.

Ben TateSep 1 10:52a

Cleveland Browns RB Ben Tate is expected to stay on the field on third downs, according to head coach Mike Pettine. This is good news for his PPR [ More ]

Charles BrownSep 1 10:43a

New York Giants OT Charles Brown (shoulder) and OT James Brewer (back) returned to practice Monday, Sept. 1.

Ahmad DixonSep 1 10:22a

The Dallas Cowboys released SS Ahmad Dixon.

Lonnie PryorSep 1 09:52a

The Buffalo Bills signed free-agent FB Lonnie Pryor (Buccaneers) and OG D.J. Morrell (Rams) to the practice squad.

Tony HillsSep 1 09:32a

The Miami Dolphins signed free-agent LB David Hinds (Titans), TE Jacob Maxwell (Lions), CB Lowell Rose (Chargers) and WR Tommy Streeter (Buccaneers) to the practice squad. C Sam Brenner, [ More ]

Emil IgwenaguSep 1 03:53a

In addition to the previously announced signings of TE Michael Egnew and RB George Winn, the Detroit Lions inked OG Rodney Austin, FB Emil Igwenagu, S Nate Ness, WR [ More ]

Chase FordSep 1 03:42a

Nine players were signed to the Minnesota Vikings practice squad on Sunday, Aug. 31. Players joining the squad include RB Joe Banyard, WR Kain Colter, DT Isame Faciane, TE [ More ]

D.J. SmithSep 1 03:33a

The Carolina Panthers brought 10 players onto their practice squad on Sunday, Aug. 31. Players signed were CB Carrington Byndom, LB Adarius Glanton, WR Tavarres King, SS Robert Lester, [ More ]

Trevin WadeSep 1 03:22a

The New Orleans Saints signed six players to their practice squad on Sunday, Aug. 31. Signees include WR Brandon Coleman, CB Terrence Frederick, WR Seantavius Jones, OT Tavon Rooks, [ More ]

Champ BaileySep 1 02:52a

Although the New York Jets are in need of cornerbacks, they are unlikely to pursue free-agent CB Champ Bailey, who was cut by the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, [ More ]

Dee MillinerSep 1 01:02a

New York Jets CB Darrin Walls and FS Antonio Allen could start at cornerback Week 1 because of the injury to CB Dee Milliner (ankle).

Jeromey ClarySep 1 12:23a

San Diego Chargers OG Jeromey Clary (shoulder, hip) underwent hip surgery around a week ago, and his status for the 2014 season is uncertain, according to sources. Clary has [ More ]

Ryan SuccopSep 1 12:12a

Free-agent PK Ryan Succop (Chiefs) is receiving significant interest from the Tennessee Titans and could sign with them as early as Monday, Sept. 1, according to a source.

Kenjon BarnerSep 1 12:02a

Philadelphia Eagles RB Kenjon Barner (ankle) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Sunday, Aug. 31, after he was waived/injured Saturday, Aug. 30.

Vincent BrownSep 1 12:02a

San Diego Chargers WR Vincent Brown (calf) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Sunday, Aug. 31, after he was waived/injured Saturday, Aug. 30.

DeMarcus Van DykeAug 31 11:52p

Kansas City Chiefs CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (undisclosed) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Sunday, Aug. 31, after he was waived/injured Saturday, Aug. 30.

Jake StoneburnerAug 31 11:32p

Green Bay Packers TE Jake Stoneburner (undisclosed) and OT Aaron Adams (knee) were placed on the Reserve/Injured list Sunday, Aug. 31, after they were waived/injured Saturday, Aug. 30.

M.D. JenningsAug 31 11:22p

Chicago Bears FS M.D. Jennings (undisclosed) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Sunday, Aug. 31, after he was waived/injured Saturday, Aug. 30.

Steve VallosAug 31 10:33p

The Tennessee Titans released C Steve Vallos Sunday, Aug. 31.

Damian WilliamsAug 31 10:22p

The Miami Dolphins released WR Damian Williams Sunday, Aug. 31.

Mike ThomasAug 31 10:12p

The Houston Texans released WR Mike Thomas Sunday, Aug. 31.

Duke IhenachoAug 31 09:53p

The Washington Redskins have claimed SS Duke Ihenacho off waivers from the Denver Broncos.

Brandon HarrisAug 31 09:53p

The Tennessee Titans have claimed WR T.J. Graham off waivers from the Buffalo Bills, WR Kris Durham from the Detroit Lions and CB Brandon Harris from the Houston Texans.

Garrett GilkeyAug 31 09:42p

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have claimed OG Garrett Gilkey off waivers from the Cleveland Browns.

MarQueis GrayAug 31 09:32p

The Minnesota Vikings have claimed TE MarQueis Gray off waivers from the Cleveland Browns and OT Michael X. Harris from the San Diego Chargers.

Brandian RossAug 31 09:22p

The Miami Dolphins have claimed CB Brandian Ross off waivers from the Oakland Raiders.

Mickey ShulerAug 31 09:12p

The Jacksonville Jaguars have claimed TE Mickey Shuler off waivers from the Atlanta Falcons.

Damaris JohnsonAug 31 09:12p

The Houston Texans have claimed OT Jeff Adams off waivers from the Tennessee Titans, WR Damaris Johnson from the Philadelphia Eagles and CB Darryl Morris from the San Francisco 49ers.

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