On December 2nd we had another falling out with Christian Ponder. Minnesota had taken a 14-10 lead over Green Bay in Lambeau Field by halftime. After a 48-yard run in the early second half by Adrian Peterson, we were poised to go up 11 against our hated rival. That is when Ponder threw an interception to Morgan Burnett, killing the drive, and changing the potential upset into the predictable loss at Green Bay.
The loss placed the Vikings at 6-6, and given the impossibility of the remaining schedule, most gave up on the season.
And then Minnesota beat the Bears, Rams, and Texans by a combined score of 80-42. Two of the games on the road, even. Now we are 9-6 and need only win at home to go from 9-23 the last two seasons, to a playoff team. All we have to do is beat the Packers.
And we can.
The recipe is simple. And given this is the season of recipes, I have decided to share....
Get a large mixing bowl, or Dome. Fill it with alcohol, food, and crazy people. Pipe in loud music that forces them to yell until their throats are sore.
Quickly stir in something to get excited about. Defensively, a sack by Jared Allen or Everson Griffen. Maybe an interception by wonder kid Harrison Smith, or a fumble-producing hit from Antoine Winfield. Chad Greenway will cover the ball. Hopefully, that will be the impetus for an early lead.
Offensively, blend in just enough passing by Christian Ponder so that a run-stopping Packers defense is caught off-guard. Just like OC Bill Musgrave managed in the Texans win. With Green Bay bent on stopping AP, Ponder will have chances to exploit single coverage often. But the Green Bay defense has been very good of late. Ponder will need to be smart.
This will get the noise to rise. And let it bake. Do not open the oven door (turnovers).
When we have the lead it is time decorate/frost our meal. And that means lots of Adrian Peterson. I know everyone wants to see him get the record, but our focus should be on All Day pounding would be tacklers all game. Punish them. Sprinkle in a little Toby Gerhart to keep it fresh.
Defensively, everyone has to be at their best. It is time for the front four, and whatever blitz we concoct, to affect Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay has won five straight vs. Minnesota, but not too long ago Rodgers feared the Dome. It is time to remind him of games past.
When we have the lead late in the game, it is time for the fans and the defense to join together. With every great rush by Jared Allen, cover by Josh Robinson, Chris Cook, or A.J. Jefferson, the fans must reward them with noise. Green Bay is very good at the passing game, but in the season's first loss they rushed for 150 yards. This cannot happen again. We must get a lead and force them out of the run so that we can attack Rodgers with a pass rush. And given the sporadic play of Green Bay's offensive line, it is possible.
We will serve the meal to everyone. A national audience, fans off the bandwagon. It does not matter.
More than likely, the reward for winning means a rematch next week back in Lambeau.
This Sunday's game vs. the Packers will be big. The biggest game since the "Assault in New Orleans", or otherwise referred to as the NFC Championship in the 2009 season. If Minnesota wins, they will have gone from back-to-back losing seasons, including last year's 3-13 season to a 2012 10-6 record and a playoff berth. Unbelievable.
Still, Minnesotans refuse to embrace quarterback Christian Ponder. And for solid reasons. His passer rating lies in-between Michael Vick and Blaine Gabbert. He throws for under 100 yards. He had five fumbles lost and twelve interceptions. His decision-making is much maligned.
Yet here we are at 9-6.
Adrian Peterson is demonstrating how important a running game can be. Peterson's 126.5 rushing yards per game dwarfs the next closest runner by nearly 30 yards per game. AP's 6.0 yards per carry are second to only C.J. Spiller, and his due mostly to running against prevent defenses, as opposed to 8 or 9 in the "box". Adrian's 2012 season ranks 8th all-time for rushing yards in a season, with Earl Campbell only 36 yards away, and O.J. Simpson's 2,003 yard performance a mere 105. Peterson's season ranks 79th all-time in all purpose yards, and if he can manage to set a single-season record by rushing for 208 yards vs. Green Bay, will finish in the top 30 all-time. He is 2nd in the league in rushing TDs. 2nd in attempts. And he has only lost two fumbles.
The defense is anchored by more than just Jared Allen and Chad Greenway in 2012. Brian Robison and Everson Griffen have been impressive, combining for 12.5 sacks. Kevin Williams, along with Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, have kept the middle solid throughout the season. Jasper Brinkley is starting to dominate at the middle linebacker. Harrison Smith and Antoine Winfield pound would be runners and receivers, and the cornerbacks have been better than any in recent memory. A total team defense.
Even Blair Walsh deserves credit. All he has done is set team and NFL records with nine consecutive field goals of 50+ yards. He is 32 of 35 on the year in field goal attempts. His kick-offs are pinning opponents deeper than in years past. He could very likely be an All-Pro is 2012.
And then there is Ponder.
Ponder lost favor by mid-season. Whether it was Bill Musgrave tightening the reins, or a lack of good decision-making, Christian stunk up the place for a while. And Minnesota lost games they had opportunities to win. Certainly the Washington loss, the Green Bay loss, and a few others drew pointed fingers at Ponder.
Despite a good game yesterday, most still feel he is not the quarterback of the future, and will be the demise of 2012. These fans want Minnesota to draft another quarterback next year, and open the door to potential free agent QBs or others out of favor with present teams. The list includes: Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers, and more. Even Tarvaris Jackson would be an upgrade in the more pessimistic fan's eye.
But let's look at a few past drafts before we come to judgment...
2012 NFL Draft included a slew of apparent strong quarterbacks. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin headline a strong class. But would it surprise you to know that Luck's present passer rating is below Ponder? And other than the top two draft picks overall, only Russell Wilson (75th pick) is looking good. Miami's Tannehill (8th) and Cleveland's Weeden (22nd) have had mixed reviews.
The 2011 NFL Draft saw four quarterbacks chosen in the top twelve, six in the top thirty-six picks. Cam Newton, first overall, has been impressive. Jake Locker (8th) less so. Blaine Gabbert (10th) a disappointment. After Ponder, Andy Dalton was chosen 35th and Colin Kaepernick 36th. Both look better than Ponder to date.
In 2010, five QBs were draft in the first four rounds. The top pick was Sam Bradford, chosen 1st overall. Next was Tim Tebow, who went with the 25th pick. The remaining QBs include Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, and some guy named Kafka. Only Bradford holds hope for a solid future.
In 2009 only three QBs are of note still today. Matthew Stafford, first overall, has been great and terrible. Mark Sanchez, fifth overall, is now washed up after his fourth season. And Josh Freeman (17th) continues to struggle with Tampa Bay. In this their fourth year, this class has taken a mighty step back.
2008 had of note Matt Ryan (3rd) and Joe Flacco (18th) and maybe Chad Henne (57th). Flacco has his detractors while Matt Ryan has proved himself year after year. The rest? Nothing.
So go ahead and hate on Ponder. Wish for another quarterback to take over. You may end up right, Christian might not be that good. But do not forget, Minnesota will not have a top ten pick. Probably not a top twenty. That means talent like Griffin, Luck, Newton, etc.. will not be available. We will have to find a Russell Wilson, or a Colin Kaepernick. In the meantime, most fans understand we still need to improve at other positions, such as wide receiver or offensive guard.
In the meantime, I will support Ponder as he beats Green Bay (along with AP and the defense), and brings us back to the playoffs in 2012.
Onward Christian Ponder. I will march off to war with you.
My mother purchased a Nissan Maxima wagon when I was first eligible to drive in the early 1980s. It had fuel injection, and that was new. While it was far from cool to drive your mother's wagon, it was at least fast. And it had a feature of a woman's voice pointing out when the car door was open while the keys were in the ignition. It would state loudly, "The door is ajar."
My friends and I used this frequently to point out when doors were open, or the fact that a door can be a jar. I kept the saying over the years and use it still to point out open paths for students. For example, they could be failing but have the opportunity to pass if they complete missing work, and I will tell them that the 'door is ajar'. It works.
The Vikings have an open door. It is not very wide. They must beat the Rams today, and then somehow sweep both the Packers and the Texans, and then hope the Bears, Seahawks, or another front-runner, struggle. In addition, they need to finish ahead of the Cowboys and the Redskins, both have a similar 7-6 record. The Rams, 6-6-1, also carry minimized hope of a rare playoff possibility. They will be amped up for the game.
The combined record of Minnesota the last two seasons (2010-11) is 6-26. This year they are 7-6. The times are changing. Already Minnesota has moved above the Detroit Lions, early season darlings for the playoffs, and are eyeing the Bears in the division standings. Sadly, Minnesota could only split with Chicago this year, and that may end up being the cause for a playoff miss. Or the lack of ability to win on the road. Or both.
The list of teams to beat Minnesota is not laughable. The Colts, Redskins, Bucs, Seahawks, Bears, and Packers. The Tampa Bay loss being the toughest to swallow. Many of these teams will make the playoffs. Some will win in the playoffs. But as comforting as that is supposed to be, it is not. Minnesotans want more. They want the playoffs. They want good quarterbacking. They want wins.
The game vs. the Rams will be hard fought. Adrian Peterson, with a chance to set the all-time single season rushing record less than a year removed from a major injury, is the catalyst for the Purple's playoff hopes. St. Louis fans will be saying good-bye to Steven Jackson. He will get many carries on his way out the door. It is not often Rams' fans can be excited about December football games. And with Seattle and San Francisco in their division, it may still be a while longer. A game between the Vikings and the Rams that matters... and in Week 15.
No one saw that coming.
So the door is ajar. And the Vikings have a chance to open it a little wider with a win. Certainly a loss will shut the door in 2012. There will still be Green Bay to beat. And Houston, who may or may not care about the outcome of the game by that time.
Hopefully by the end of the noon games we can declare with one voice that our door is still ajar..
We won. We beat the Chicago Bears 21-14 offensively behind the front line and the legs of Adrian Peterson. Christian Ponder reduced his mistakes and that was enough for a win. Of course, two long defensive interception returns played a large part in the outcome. Once again, Ponder's stats (11-17 for 91 yards, 1 interception) look like an AA high school quarterback's in a foot of snow. Yet we know the Dome was able to hold off the snow this time around.
History tells us to be patient. We are not. The boos rained on and on throughout the game, though with the amount of Bears' fans with season-tickets in the Dome (apparently) yesterday, it was difficult to tell just who was booing. One thing is certain: the Vikings' fans collectively are finished with Ponder.
Maybe we need to learn patience?
Just to give a background of great quarterbacks in the NFL and their career starts, below is a compiled list of some of the better QBs in the modern NFL.
Johnny Unitas started in 1956. He went 3-4 with a 74.0 rating. He would raise his game immediately, going 15-7 the next two years with ratings near 90. Of course, he was playing for a powerhouse in the Colts. But even the great Johnny U struggled. Between 1960 and 1962 Unitas threw 64 TDs to 71 interceptions, with passer ratings averaging near 70.0 His powerhouse team would be 21-19 with Unitas at the helm.
Fran Tarkenton was 8-27-2 in his first three seasons (1961-1963) with a new franchise. He threw 55 TDs and 57 interceptions in those first three years. His passer rating never reached 80.0 in those first years. The Hall-of-Famer would eventually be traded.
Terry Bradshaw started eight games in his rookie season (1970). His rating was 30.4. He had six touchdowns and twenty-four interceptions. I wonder how Vikings fans would have treated that? I know Steelers fans were unhappy back then. The next year Bradshaw threw 13 TDs and 22 ints., with a 54.7 rating. The team went 5-8. Luckily, the defense and running game would improve, Pittsburgh would be 11-3 the next season despite Bradshaw throwing only 12 TDs with a 64.1 rating. Four Super Bowls later, Bradshaw would become a legend.
Miami's superstar Dan Marino was an exception. He was great from the start. His rookie season he went 7-2 with a 96.0 rating. The Dolphins would then go 14-2 in 1984, and 12-4 in 1985. Marino was amazing. But even he struggled at some point. Between 1987 and 1989 his teams went 21-23. And Marino would never win a Super Bowl.
Joe Montana was a quarterback who did win Super Bowls for the 49ers. But he started only eight games in his first two years, and sported a 2-6 record. By his 3rd season (1981) he evolved into one of the elite QBs in NFL history.
Brett Favre was drafted by the Falcons in 1981 and threw four passes his rookie season. Two were intercepted (insert joke). While Favre did turn around a losing Packers franchise, his first two seasons were not stellar. While the team went 17-12 in his starts, Favre's first three seasons resulted in 37 TDs and 39 ints. His rating in 1983 was 72.2.
Drew Brees started games in his 2nd year after a year on the bench. In an 8-8 season Brees threw 17 TDs with 16 picks. The following year, a 2-9 record, 67.5 rating, and 11 TDs to 15 ints. Maybe that explains why he became a Saint? The Chargers had their sights set on a better quarterback.... Ryan Leaf.
Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers benefited from being a back-up his first three seasons. His ratings in mop-up roles were 39.8 and 48.2 in his first two seasons. His fourth season he started 16 games and went 6-10. I wonder if he would have been as great if he had been thrust into a starting role his rookie year?
OK, so ratings are not the same these days. The NFL has done more to advance scoring than the NBA and the shot clock, no zone, and 3-point line. Cornerbacks might as well play in handcuffs these days. Understood.
And some of those great quarterbacks had less to play with than Ponder. How many had a powerful back like Adrian Peterson? Were a year removed from the NFC Championship? Not too many.
But if you took emotion out of the equation and looked at numbers and results, you might see that Christian Ponder is not struggling more than many great HOFers in their beginnings. This is not to suggest he is headed for Canton. Rather, it is a plea to Vikings' fans to lighten up. This team won six games in two seasons. Now in 2012 they are 7-6 with a chance to win even more.
Go ahead and plan for other QBs to compete for the starting job in 2013 and beyond. But do not tell me that Joe Webb (66.6 passer rating lifetime) or McLeod Bethel-Thompson (never thrown an NFL pass) are the answer. Because then I will not listen to you.
Two roads converge in Chicago on Sunday, and the Vikings will take one. But which one?
The first, as you recall, defeated the big, bad 49ers 24-13. They swept the Lions by a score of 54-37 in two games. And they beat the Jaguars, Titans, and Cardinals as they should have.That is the team led by Adrian Peterson, at 5.8 yards a carry. It is the team that features Christian Ponder not turning the ball over. All this accented by a hard hitting, aggressive defense which creates turnovers and makes sacks. Names like Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Antoine Winfield, and Harrison Smith clutter the media broadcast.
The second, not as fair, is the one that suffered double-digit losses to Washington, Tampa Bay (at home), and Seattle. And was unable to hold on to a victory in Indianapolis. That team often allows sacks, throws interceptions, gives up first downs on third, and cannot seem to bring down elusive backs. This team does not seem to find Kyle Rudolph. This team sees OL on their backs or staring at their fallen quarterback.That team is the one most fresh in fans minds, given the present 2-3 record in the last five games.
And the two paths converge upon Chicago, where the Bears are coming off of a pair of rancid offensive games. Jay Cutler has been out with a concussion, and Jason Campbell is reminding teams why counting on old, slow, and weak-armed reserve-quarterbacks can be dangerous.The celebrated Bears' defense torched on national television last Monday Night. The Chicago offensive line looking more battered than a Mike Tyson opponent, the early years.
Vikings' fans are hoping Cutler is not ready. Maybe praying. Cutler has his faults, but defenses must respect his strong arm. And their is a gritty toughness about him that seems to be of leadership quality. Even when throwing an occasional interception. With Matt Forte, Chicago usually gets something on the ground or through the short passing game. It is the opportunistic Bears' defense that often feels like more of an offense than their own offense. Or their opponents' offense. That is often enough to win in the NFL. The Bears used this formula for a 7-1 start.
Many predict Chicago will play extra angry.
There is no doubt this is a crucial game for Minnesota's hope for the playoffs. They have a tough schedule ahead. Splitting games with Chicago and Green Bay will not be enough. A win this Sunday and the path to the playoffs suddenly becomes alive. A loss and the path to a .500 season looms. Given the 3-13 season last year this is progress either way. But in the modern NFL, teams turn around much more quickly than in the past. Just ask the 49ers of 2011. They improved by a total of seven games in a single season. It can be done.
Two paths will leave the Windy City. It is my hope that we choose the one where we win.
Because that will make all the difference.
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