Christian Ponder intended to throw to Kyle Rudolph, right, but the pass was picked off by Arizona’s Paris Lenon, rear, Sunday.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

VIKINGS Up next: 7:20 p.m. Thursday vs. Tampa Bay • Mall of America Field • TV: NFL Network, Ch. 11 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

Short week forces Ponder to forget about awful day

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER
  • Star Tribune
  • October 23, 2012 - 6:41 PM

Perhaps no player in the NFL has welcomed the Sunday-to-Thursday quick flip the way Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder will this week.

Yes, Ponder has very little time to refocus and prepare before Thursday's home game against Tampa Bay. But on the bright side, that also means he won't have to wallow too long in the worry and frustration that has erupted after his miserable effort Sunday against Arizona.

Yes, the Vikings won 21-14. But had you ignored the final score and instead gauged momentum based solely on what is being said on sports talk radio and written in comments sections on the Internet, you might guess the 5-2 Vikings were in freefall.

Ponder's shaky Sunday -- his third in a row with multiple turnovers -- suddenly has sparked an inquiry, the conclusions of which are fairly easy to deduce.

Fifty-eight passing yards for an entire game? Not so good.

A quarterback rating of 35.5? Whoa.

One completion in seven second-half attempts? Yikes.

Still, most disconcerting Sunday were the two interceptions Ponder threw, a pair of giveaways in the second quarter that gave Arizona possession at the Vikings 16 and 29.

The Cardinals turned the first turnover into a four-play touchdown drive. The Vikings survived Ponder's second pick when Arizona kicker Jay Feely missed a 47-yard field goal as the first half ended.

Ponder never regrouped and neither did the offense, netting only 58 yards and two first downs after halftime.

Coach's support

Suddenly, legitimate questions have been raised about whether Ponder will experience another confidence slide similar to the one that doomed him in December of his rookie year.

The most panicky of the Chicken Little crowd might soon start making calls for Joe Webb.

All of which prompted Vikings coach Leslie Frazier to voice his unwavering support for Ponder on Monday.

Frazier praised Arizona's defensive schemes and ability to neutralize the Vikings' top receivers.

The coach also asserted that Ponder is far more mature and resilient as a quarterback than he was as a rookie.

"He's so different from a year ago when it comes to negative plays," Frazier said. "I've seen it and we've all seen it over these first seven games where he's had some bad plays and he's bounced back. ... [Sunday] was a tough day against a very, very good defense. But he's not the same Christian Ponder that he was a year ago. I'm convinced of it."

Sure, with seven turnovers in the past three games, Ponder might be seeing his outside approval rating plummeting.

Praised at the start of the month as an intelligent playmaker who doesn't try to do too much, Ponder is now being skewered by anxious fans and critics as turnover-prone and jumpy under pressure.

Frazier isn't worried.

"There are going to be some tough days for him," Frazier said. "He'll get better."

Taking no chances

Naturally, some of Sunday's offensive slippage can be traced back to a conservative second-half approach. For the fourth time this season, the Vikings built a double-digit lead. An interception return touchdown by Harrison Smith in the first minute of the third quarter provided a 21-7 advantage.

And with such a cushion, it's clear that at this point Frazier trusts his defense to seal a victory more than he trusts his developing quarterback.

Ponder's second-half numbers this season during games where the Vikings led by two scores after halftime:

• vs. San Francisco: 6-for-12, 55 yards, one TD.

• at Detroit: 6-for-11, 52 yards.

• vs. Tennessee: 12-for-14, 100 yards, two TDs, one interception.

• vs. Arizona: 1-for-7, 4 yards.

Remember, in Week 6, the Vikings sat in a 31-12 hole early in the fourth quarter and Ponder wound up throwing for a season-best 353 yards. But 212 of those plus two TD passes came in the final period with the Vikings in full catch-up mode.

So statistics don't always provide full context.

Still, Ponder will be the first to admit he struggled mightily against Arizona, with a flood of bad decisions and poor throws.

"I'm trying to do too many things," he said. "I'm getting out of the pocket and trying to force it to happen. I have to be a lot smarter and make better decisions for sure."

For better or worse, the opportunity to regroup comes quickly this week.

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