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Christian Ponder dived into the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown run to give the Vikings a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Souhan: Rather than retreat, Ponder produces TDs and trust

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • September 24, 2012 - 2:36 PM

Christian Ponder made fun of his "white legs." He described his touchdown scramble, then teased himself, mumbling, "Run, Forrest, run."

Ponder could joke because he had just played puppet-master of the Vikings' upset of San Francisco, and when you win an NFL game, the league allows you 12 minutes to display a sense of humor before a replacement ref calls you back to the field for the fifth and sixth quarters.

He could joke because three plays went his way, three plays that made the difference between spending a night on the town as the architect of the Vikings' most impressive victory since 2009 instead of the guy they got because college football was all out of Andrew Lucks.

Play 1: The Vikings took the opening kickoff and, 15 plays later, faced fourth and goal from the 1. Ponder dropped back. He expected the 49ers to crash the middle of the line, but safety Dashon Goldson rushed him. Ponder knew tight end Kyle Rudolph would be open, but could he throw accurately while falling backward?

An incomplete pass would have given San Francisco a reprieve and a clean scoreboard. Instead, Ponder launched a high pass that found Rudolph, and the Vikings had clearly stated their intentions.

"We had always seen them on film, the defensive ends crashing down," Ponder said. "Fortunately, Kyle was wide open so it worked out well. I kept backing up, backing up, trying to find him and then he just popped and I just put air under the ball and let him go get it.''

Play 2: The Vikings led 7-3 in the second quarter. Ponder dropped back from the 49ers 23, and found his two receivers covered as the pocket began to shrink.

He sprinted up the middle, made a dynamic cut and dived for the end zone, showing speed few NFL quarterbacks possess, speed that the Vikings want him to use only when his receivers are covered and he has a running lane.

"It was kind of a little quirky play that we were trying to run, and try to pump Percy on a screen and throw it over the top, and they played it,'' Ponder said. "I knew it was man coverage so I just pulled it down and ran with it. I thought it felt like a lot longer than 23 yards, but I'll take it."

Ponder produced a TD when, last year, he might have taken a sack, fumbled or thrown an interception. Instead, he gave the Vikings a 14-3 lead against a team not built to play from behind.

Play 3: The 49ers had cut the lead to 17-13 in the third quarter. Early in the fourth, the Vikings faced third and goal from the 49ers 2. Ponder took the snap and recognized the blitz. He threw the ball immediately. Replays would show at least two other Vikings wide open, but Ponder took his chances with Rudolph, knowing a linebacker would be covering him.

Rudolph fought off the defender and made a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone. The Vikings led 24-13. Three times Ponder had produced a touchdown under duress.

"I gave ground," Ponder said. "I knew that, for him, it was a mismatch. Even before he came out of the break, I didn't have time, so I just put it up, and it was a little bit short and he made a heck of a play.''

On the first touchdown, Ponder displayed awareness and touch. On the second, he read the defense correctly and showed off his speed. On the third, he displayed anticipation and trust of a teammate with whom he works incessantly.

"It's just something we work on all throughout practice, whether it's actual reps, extra reps or just watching tape,'' Rudolph said. "He knew the look right away and made a good throw.

"I couldn't believe he threw it to me. He put all of the trust in the world in me."

In his 13th career start, Ponder faced perhaps the NFL's best defense. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 198 yards and didn't commit a turnover. Through three games this season, he has thrown zero interceptions while completing 70.1 percent of his passes.

Trust? Ponder's earned some, too.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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