The last month of football hasn’t been a good one for Christian Ponder.
On Sept. 22, the Minnesota Vikings fell to 0-3 after a 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns. In that game Ponder was 25 of 42, passing for 228 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
Later that week, with the Vikings in London, it was announced that Ponder would miss the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a rib injury. Matt Cassel took over at quarterback and led Minnesota to its first win of the season.
When the Vikings returned from London, coach Leslie Frazier announced that Cassel would start the next game vs. Carolina even though Ponder was healthy enough to be the backup. Then, on Oct. 6, Minnesota signed QB Josh Freeman who was released three days earlier from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, further crowding the quarterback position.
Cassel struggled in his second start against Carolina, causing Frazier to declare Freeman the starting quarterback in Minnesota’s next game against the New York Giants despite having been with the team for only a couple of weeks. This decision left Ponder’s future with the Vikings in doubt.
Freeman looked less than impressive on Monday against the Giants as he kept overthrowing many of his receivers. Despite this the plan was for Freeman to continue to be the starting quarterback. That plan changed on Wednesday when it was announced that Freeman was suffering from concussion-like symptoms, making Ponder the starting quarterback for this Sunday.
For Ponder, this is an opportunity to show the Vikings that they did make the correct call when he was picked 12th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. While his play at quarterback may not have inspired confidence within the organization, it’s unfair to put the blame solely on Ponder for the team’s woes. A shaky offensive line and the defense’s inability to closeout games late in the fourth quarter have more to do with the Vikings being 1-5 on the season than anything else.
To his credit, Ponder has handled the last month about as well as anyone could have given the circumstances. He has been professional and supportive of his teammates and hasn’t complained publicly about being benched. Now he gets another chance at quarterback to start against Minnesota’s biggest rival on national television.
Beating the Green Bay Packers at Mall Of America Field on Sunday night will be a challenge, but it’s a situation Ponder is familiar with. Last year, with the Vikings needing a win to clinch a playoff berth, Ponder played in arguably his best game as a pro throwing for 234 yards and three touchdowns as Minnesota defeated Green Bay 37-34 to clinch the final playoff spot in the NFC. Keep in mind going into this game the Packers are ranked 24th in the NFL in pass defense.
There isn’t a lot of pressure on Ponder for Sunday as expectations aren’t very high. Having already been benched, Ponder admits that it can’t get any worse for him. It could turn out that being benched may end up being the best thing ever to happen to Ponder as a quarterback. On Sunday we may see a different Ponder under center. One who is relaxed with nothing to lose, one who can just go out there and play with a little bit of an edge and not have to worry about any repercussions.
Despite everything that has happened over the past month, Ponder is getting a second chance to make a first impression. The assumption going forward is that Freeman will be the Vikings starting quarterback once he’s healthy. If Ponder plays well and gives the Vikings a chance to win the game, Frazier might not have a choice other than to ride the hot hand as the season moves on.