As it turns out, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder did very little in practice last week. Some light throwing on the side. Delivered handoffs during team drills. But the deep bruise on Ponder’s right arm caused so much discomfort and stiffness in his triceps and elbow that he was never truly himself.
It all led up to a strange plot twist Saturday evening at Lambeau Field when Ponder was declared inactive for a first-round playoff game against the Packers. He was replaced by Joe Webb, who struggled throughout the Vikings’ 24-10 loss.
On locker clean out day Monday at Winter Park, Ponder removed a protective sleeve from his right arm to reveal the nasty bruise that sidelined him. Here's what that looked like in a photo from the Star Tribune's Shari Gross.
Ponder also expressed disappointment in having his season end in that fashion, on an odd Saturday in which his only throws were some feeble soft tosses in a last ditch effort to test the arm in pre-game warm-ups.
“It was [crazy],” Ponder said. “Obviously it wasn’t as much fun as I wanted it to be. I wanted to be out there. Frustrating day. But out of my control. It’s something that makes me hungry to be able to get back and play in a playoff game next year.”
The move to declare Ponder inactive Saturday snuck up on everybody. Head coach Leslie Frazier told the media early in the week that Ponder was dealing with an elbow injury, a result of having banged his arm on the helmet of Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett during the first half of the Vikings' 37-34 win on Dec. 30.
Even after that hit, however, Ponder played the rest of the game. And he and Frazier downplayed the severity of the injury throughout last week before the quarterback was stamped as “questionable” on the official injury report Friday afternoon.
Ponder’s range of motion in the arm was severely limited, rendering him incapable of making even the simplest and softest of throws with any strength. Hence the Vikings were forced into a late change and the move to Webb. With the offense never really in sync -- Webb hadn't thrown a pass during the regular season -- the Vikings magical 2012 run abruptly ended.
And so now Ponder heads into the offseason with emptiness on not being able to suit up in the postseason.
Yet he also will take with him a final performance (234 yards, three TDs) in the regular season finale against Green Bay that seemed to be evidence of growth and his ability to deliver on a big stage with the stakes high. That effort completed a four-game stretch in which Ponder threw only one interception as the Vikings surged from 6-6 to snatch the NFC’s final wild card berth.
Ponder said he used the final four games as a push to show greater care with the offense, “realizing that I needed to take calculated risks and understanding what risks I should and shouldn’t take and getting a wrap around that.”
He also took great pride in the win over Green Bay in the regular season finale.
“That was one of my best memories I’ll ever have playing this game -- hopefully, not the best one,” he said. “Obviously, I have some games and some years ahead where hopefully, we have a Super Bowl ring on our finger.
As for Ponder’s arm injury, he continues to regain movement and flexibility and will just need time for it to heal completely. Alas, the Vikings’ next meaningful game won’t come until September.