It’s amazing to see the amount of criticism directed at Christian Ponder from fans and the media alike. The 25-year-old, who last season became the second-youngest starting quarterback in Vikings history to take the team to the playoffs (behind Daunte Culpepper), already has people calling for him to be replaced following the season-opening 34-24 loss at Detroit last week.
But the Florida State product said that if he is going to have success, he cannot do anything other than ignore the newspapers and what people outside the team have to say about his play.
“I don’t read it, so I’m focused on my job and that’s to keep getting better and improve as a football team and lead this team to some wins and hopefully the playoffs,” Ponder said. “I don’t know what’s being said, and I couldn’t care less.”
Last season was unquestionably an up-and-down one for Ponder in his first opportunity to be the starter for a full season. He posted four starts with a quarterback rating above 100, but he also had five games with a quarterback rating below 60.
But he said after watching the film from Week 1 that he saw improvement over his play from last year.
“There were a lot of good things [in the Detroit] game,” Ponder said. “The turnovers were unfortunate, obviously things that are easily correctable — things that I don’t think I made bad decisions, it’s just things were unfortunate. “
Ponder finished last week completing 18 of 28 passes for 236 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions for a QB rating of 63.1. Still Ponder’s 8.43 passing yards per attempt was the second-highest single-game total of his career.
Ponder was asked how his confidence is following the 0-1 start to the season.
“Confidence is great, my confidence is not affected,” he said. “I know that there were a lot of good things in that game.”
Ponder also said that even difficult losses like Detroit give him something to learn from.
“I mean, the more experience you get the better you become,” he said. “I learn from every situation that I go through, good or bad. I think with anybody the more experience you get, the game slows down, you become a better player.”
He added that Sunday’s game at Chicago won’t be any easier.
“You know it’s a tough division,” he said about starting off against two NFC North opponents. “But it’s a competitive division and it’s fun to play in.
“[Chicago’s fans will] be tough, they’ll be loud. It’s a fun place to play. They definitely have home-field advantage and we’ll learn to deal with it.”
Does he feel any pressure in trying to keep the Vikings from starting out 0-2?
“We understand that there are going to be losses in this season and we don’t want to be 0-2, obviously you want to win this one and keep moving forward,” Ponder said. “But we’re going to do the best that we can and not worry about the outcome — it’s about the process.
“I’m a lot more comfortable and confident in what I’m doing, and I think everyone in this offense is. We are a better offense than we were last year.”
Bad start for Gophers
How could the Gophers get off to a worse start than they did Saturday against Western Illinois, a FCS team? They lost starting quarterback Philip Nelson in the first quarter; scored only seven points while gaining only 116 yards in the first half; and then lost coach Jerry Kill to another seizure at the break.
But fortunately things worked out well, both for Kill, who was back home by Saturday evening, and at quarterback, where Mitch Leidner came in and sparked the team to a 29-12 victory over Western Illinois. He completed seven of eight passes for 105 yards and ran 17 times for 64 yards, showing tremendous poise for a player who redshirted last season and had played very little in college before Saturday.
One person not surprised in the performance by Leidner was defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who served as acting coach in the second half.
“I’ll tell you what, when you get in a tough situation like that and the game is still in the balance and you have to put in your second quarterback, I mean wow, what a performance he made,” Claeys said. “He was with us all last year on defense [as the scout team quarterback] because he redshirted, and I can tell you this, every coach on the defensive staff has a tremendous amount of respect for him because he’s a great competitor.
“I think he showed that when things were struggling, he took over the game and made the plays he had to make, without getting as many reps in practice. He loves the game of football, there’s no question about that. It showed today.”
This was two different halves of football by the Gophers, who followed their worst first half of the season by playing an improved second half that won the game.
But they won’t beat any Big Ten teams playing a first half like they did Saturday, when they were completely outplayed by the lower-division Leathernecks.
• Jay Cutler was asked what his reaction was when Marc Trestman was hired as Bears coach. “I met with him before we hired him, so I had an idea of what I was getting into,” the controversial Bears quarterback said. “It has been fun. It has been a process getting to know each other through the OTAs and the minicamps and in the summer during training camp and then finally to this past week. It has been give and take about the things that he likes to do on the field and the things I like to do. I think he has been really receptive to my ideas and the guys on the offense and what they’re good at. We’re not done yet. We’re still figuring things out.”
• Trestman was asked how Chicago wound up with rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills at right guard and right tackle and if he believes his team can with that little experience at those positions. “It was just based on practice and the work and the things that we did over the OTAs and the minicamps and training camp. We just projected them to be better players over the long haul and were good enough that we could play them early and work through their growth as linemen. It wasn’t something we made a quick decision.”
• Bobby Jackson, the former Gophers and NBA guard and new Timberwolves assistant coach, talked about how much influence Wolves coach Rick Adelman had on him when he played for Adelman in Sacramento. “It’s funny, but when I went to Sacramento I had left here [playing for the Wolves],” Jackson said. “They gave me the opportunity to be the player that I was capable of being. I was an energy guy.” He also played defense, saying, “That is what really started our relationship, because I played defense and changed the game when I got on the court.”
• Former Gophers basketball standout Trevor Mbakwe played his first game with Virtus Roma in Italy, scoring 14 points in an exhibition against Dinamo Basket Sassari.