Vikings’ success hinges on Ponder’s play

Published 8:31 am Thursday, September 19, 2013

EDEN PRAIRIE — After the latest mistake by Christian Ponder suddenly became a touchdown for the other team, Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier approached his quarterback on the sideline late in that second quarter in Chicago.

Their brief conversation, and the look on Ponder’s face, was enough proof for Frazier that the Vikings could count on him bouncing back.

“He was really focused. He told me, ‘Coach, I put that behind me. I’ll be ready to go next series,”’ Frazier said. “The way he said it, the way he looked me in the eye when he said it, the conviction that he had, I was assured that he’s all right.”

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Ponder backed up his coach’s belief by completing 12 of his 18 passes for 173 yards, a touchdown and no more turnovers over the 33 minutes of game time that remained after the interception — a hurried, softly aimed throw on an out route the quarterback called afterward “a terrible play.”

Ponder has a lot more to prove if the Vikings are going to commit to him beyond this year, but his response to his fifth turnover of the season was strong enough for them to warrant giving him more opportunities to show he can be a capable starter. Matt Cassel was signed as a more-experienced backup, but his record isn’t exactly spotless, either.

Now Ponder and the Vikings badly need him to build on that performance in the second half of last week’s loss to the Bears, rather than riding the roller-coaster of clean games and costly decisions over the duration of the schedule like they did in 2012.

The Vikings’ next game is Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, one of the other seven 0-2 teams left in the league.

“You don’t like to be playing with your back against the wall a lot, but that happens with a lot of real good athletes,” Frazier said. “They sometimes get pushed, and then they want to push back. He has had some moments where he’s struggled and then bounced back and played well. Sunday was an example of that.”

Ponder shrugged off his pattern of improvement immediately after some of his lowest points as a pro.

“My mindset is, ‘Hey, I’ve got to change it for this team, for this offense to have a chance.’ I think in prior instances like in high school or college I let interceptions affect me, even my rookie year here,” Ponder said. “But now I’ve found that I need to move on.”

Ponder was good enough down the stretch in Chicago that the majority of Vikings fans used to complaining about the quarterback targeted Bill Musgrave to criticize the offensive coordinator for the play-calling after Minnesota had first-and-goal at the 6-yard line leading 27-24 with less than 4 minutes left. Two of them were runs by Adrian Peterson, including a no gain on third-and-4.

“It’s easy to look back and think that we could’ve done things differently, but I wouldn’t expect that if it happens this week that we would change that,” Ponder said. “I mean, Adrian can make plays all the time, and he does a great job of it.”

The Vikings would love to use the same words about Ponder some day.

“When a guy throws an interception who is pretty critical of himself, immediately you want to find out, ‘Hey, was that his fault or was it our fault?’ I’m like, ‘Christian, that wasn’t you. That wasn’t yours. We own that one,”’ wide receiver Greg Jennings said. “So it’s one of those things where he has to be able to let it go, which he did, and he performed at a high level. He put us in position to win the game.”

NOTES: Tight end Rhett Ellison, who has been filling in at fullback with rookie Zach Line during Jerome Felton’s three-game suspension, missed practice because of a hyperextended right knee. Frazier said Ellison probably would rest on Thursday, too. … After Frazier vowed to rectify the lack of playing time so far for Cordarrelle Patterson, who’s taken 11 snaps in two games, the rookie wide receiver denied any frustration. “It really doesn’t matter how many plays you play, man. It’s what you do with the plays you get,” Patterson said.