The Vikings wished for better quarterback play in the offseason, believing that Year 3 of Christian Ponder would be the breakthrough they were waiting for.
The Packers wished for better defense in the offseason, believing that more studying and scheme work would cure a pass defense that gave up 300 yards per game last season.
Both wishes remind us of a crude expression about bowel movements and the filling up of hands. Bottom line: If both teams were, indeed, relying on offseason wishes for 2013 success, both are -- at least so far -- empty-handed in that regard.
Picking on Ponder and the Packers' pass D is particularly low-hanging fruit, but then again they were both just that bad on Sunday. Ponder did a few things well early on. We can quibble about whether his first INT should have been caught by Jerome Simpson (we thought it was a decent ball, but thrown a little off target and telegraphed, like so many of Ponder's passes). We cannot quibble about what happened with the Vikings up 14-6 and threatening for more late in the first half. Ponder escaped the pocket, as he so often does, and went chugging to his left. It looked like he was trying to throw the ball away, but instead he was hit, the ball floated in the air forever, it was intercepted, and Detroit ended up turning the possession into a game-turning TD just before halftime. We do not care if his intentions were good. Ponder has to get that ball out of bounds and live to see another day. End of story.
The other crippler was a botched handoff between Ponder and Adrian Peterson after Ponder stumbled on a lineman's foot. It's another human error compounded into a mental error when Ponder still tried to complete the handoff. Stuck between trying to do too much and do too little -- that's where Ponder resides, and it cost the Vikings in a 34-24 loss.
It's hard to say, though, that the Vikings are more fundamentally flawed than their border rivals to the east, and we say that with all seriousness. While the Packers have certainly figured out the most important position on the field (QB), they continue to employ a defensive unit (and coordinator) that are not playoff-caliber, let alone championship caliber.
This was evident again Sunday as San Francisco passed all over the Packers, who could not get off the field at key times in a 34-28 loss. They skipped right over 300 and went to 400-plus yards passing allowed.
The common denominator in all this is Colin Kaepernick. The third-year 49ers QB, chosen in the second round of the 2011 draft, is the real deal. We knew this already, but if you needed proof there it was on Sunday. He can make all the throws. He is poised. He can beat you in so many ways. He's everything you want a QB to be.
To torture ourselves, we went back to the 2011 pre-draft speculation. Pundits generally agreed going in that Ponder was the right pick for the Vikings if things fell the way they were expected to go. Ponder was the No. 12 pick and the fourth QB chosen. Kaepernick was taken 36th overall in the second round, one spot after Andy Dalton, and was the sixth QB taken. He wouldn't have been there at No. 43 when the Vikings picked in the second round (taking TE Kyle Rudolph, by the way). It would have been viewed as a reach at No. 12, just as some thought Ponder was a reach.
It's all revisionist history, but we'll leave with this thought: With the benefit of hindsight, two rivals would have had far different experiences on Sunday.