Ponder struggles to lead Vikings in season opener

Published 3:19 am Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

I wrapped up one of my best friend’s bachelor parties on Sunday by watching the Vikings game at a sports bar near Vanderbilt University.

I sat with his fiancé and her father and brother-in-law — all Packers fans — and announced Adrian Peterson would score a touchdown on his first carry as the Vikings offense lined up to start their season.

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I rejoiced as Peterson ran untouched into the end zone and was finally able to see first-hand the anguish on a Packers fan’s face as AP trotted in for a score.

I celebrated and bragged about my foresight by taking another bite of my cajun pepperoni pizza and was filled, just briefly, with the false hope that Peterson could carry us once again.

Then Christian Ponder dropped back for his first pass.

The Vikings on Sunday reminded me that even if you have one of the best running backs in NFL history, quarterback is still the most important position on the field.

Ponder started his third season by throwing 18-for-28 for 236 yards, a touchdown and three costly interceptions in a 27-17 loss to the Lions at Ford Field.

He had his moments during the NFL’s opening weekend as he threw more passes downfield than we’re accustomed to seeing and connected on two long passes to Jerome Simpson, who had his best day as a Viking with seven receptions and 140 yards.

But on Ponder’s longer completions, his receivers need to get most of the credit as they shifted their bodies to make catches on slightly under- and over-thrown passes.

Like for much of last season, Ponder wasn’t accurate or poised under duress, and instead of throwing the football away as he was hit by Ndamukong Suh in the second quarter, he lofted a pass that led to his second interception and a Lions touchdown.

Ponder’s inability to make plays let the Lions focus solely on stopping Peterson and held him to just 15 yards on his next 17 carries.

The Vikings struggled in many aspects of the game, including on the offensive line and defense, two facets the team excelled at last season, but Ponder kept the offense without any hope of making a comeback with the third-worst passer rating in the NFL.

What’s most disturbing is he didn’t seem to care.

While only two running backs rushed for over 100 yards during Week 1, elite quarterbacks were leading their teams to dramatic victories.

Peyton Manning threw for an NFL-record seven touchdowns and no interceptions, and Colin Kaepernick racked up a career-high 416 yards passing in a win over the Packers.

Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton, who was drafted 23 spots behind Ponder, led the league with identical 79 percent completion percentages.

Ponder has a long way to go to live up to the expectations of a first-round quarterback. Until he gets there, it’s going to be a long season in Minneapolis.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Tuesday.