As worthy as Christian Ponder was of praise through the first three games of the season – zero interceptions, a cool efficiency and major strides since his rookie season – he is equally worthy of scrutiny as it pertains to his seeming regression of late.
Is it a matter of breaks – early on, balls that easily could have been intercepted fell harmlessly to the turf, while now teams are making plays – or is it something more alarming?
Here is what we know: Ponder has played poorly enough in long enough stretches over the last four games – be it failure to move the ball, turning it over, or a combination of the two – that the Vikings easily could have gone 1-3 in that stretch. He had 111 yards passing against the Lions, bailed out by two special teams TDs. He threw two picks but was otherwise solid against Tennessee. He couldn’t cash in early drives for touchdowns and had back-breaking turnovers against Washington. And he played his worst game, start to finish, as a pro on Sunday against Arizona.
Somehow – largely because of defense, special teams, Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson – the Vikings are 3-1 in that stretch instead of 1-3. That makes them 5-2 overall – an ugly 5-2 at times, but a record that puts them in position to at least contend for a playoff spot. It’s not crazy to think that they could be 7-3 at the bye considering they have home games against Tampa Bay and Detroit before then, along with a roadie at Seattle. It’s not inconceivable that – with this defense, special teams, etc. – they could find a way to win at least two games, maybe three after the bye and get to 10-6.
But if the X-factor in a stronger-than-expected start in the first three games of the season was Ponder, the X-factor going forward is which Ponder will show up: the efficient QB who was finding a way to limit mistakes while still making plays in and out of the pocket, or the suddenly turnover-prone QB who is making both physical and mental mistakes (the awful throw Sunday, shown in the picture, is physical; not simply throwing the ball away, even if his arm was hit at the end of the first half, is mental)?
At a certain point, the Vikings QB will have to be, at the very least, a neutral factor in games instead of a somehow-escapable detriment. If not, a promising season will evaporate and questions about the position could very well begin anew.
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