There was a chance for Christian Ponder to start redefining himself as the Vikings’ quarterback near the end of Sunday’s game in Chicago. It took a stubborn effort from Bill Musgrave, Ponder’s offensive coordinator, to make certain that this wasn’t going to happen.
The Vikings arrived in Soldier Field having lost 11 of 12 on the road to the Bears. Touchdowns on Cordarrelle Patterson’s return of a kickoff and Brian Robison’s return of a fumble allowed the Vikings to be in a 14-14 tie late in the first half.
Then, Ponder threw a short out to his right, the Bears’ Tim Jennings jumped in front and went 44 yards for a touchdown.
Back in Minnesota, that was going to be the lasting memory of another road loss to the Bears, until Ponder and the Vikings rallied.
The visitors were leading 27-24 in the middle of the fourth quarter when tackle Letroy Guion made a play that could be shown on Vikings highlights for years to come. The big man ripped the football from running back Matt Forte and secured it in his arms as both went to the ground.
The forced fumble and recovery gave the Vikings possession at Chicago’s 47. Ponder found Jerome Simpson for 12 yards and John Carlson for 7. On third-and-3, he dropped a pass between two defenders and Greg Jennings held on magnificently, and the Vikings had a first down at the 6.
Ponder was running around like an athlete in control of the world. The offensive huddle and the Vikings sideline were ready to celebrate.
And when it reached third down at the Bears 4, Musgrave ordered Adrian Peterson up the gut, and the run was stonewalled, and the Vikings kicked a field goal, and they lost 31-30.
On Wednesday, Ponder conducted the starting quarterback’s weekly media session at Winter Park and was asked: Did you have the option to check to a pass (on third down)?
“No, I did not,” he said.
Ponder’s teammates appeared to be at the height of confidence in him. Clearly, it was an attitude that Musgrave didn’t share. He ordered a Peterson run — with no option for Ponder to use a QB’s better judgment.
It was mentioned to Ponder that selected media members and disgruntled fans were puzzled not to see him roll right with the option to run or throw.
“We have the best running back in the league,” Ponder said. “… We wanted points on the board. We didn’t want anything crazy to happen. We wanted to keep the clock running and force them to take the timeout.”
There you have it. The Vikings’ brain trust wanted some points, and nothing crazy, and the Bears using a second timeout. What the coaches should have wanted — and the heck with the rest of it — was a touchdown.
This question (complete with editorial comment) was asked of Ponder: “Is a roll-out-right play actually in your playbook? We don’t see it much. We do see you roll out left, which we can’t figure out.”
Ponder said: “We call roll rights. It all depends on what hash we’re on and when the play comes in … but we do go right.”
How much different would the crowd for this Sunday’s home opener feel about Ponder as the quarterback, if the Vikings were 1-1, not 0-2, and if the Vikings had gotten there with Ponder driving them to a game-clinching TD drive at Soldier Field?
This was the chance for the first road win vs. the Bears since 2007, and only the second of this century.
And after that third-down throw to Jennings, another third-down conversion for Ponder at the goal line — using his speed or his arm — could have caused legions of Vikings fans to say:
“Maybe we were wrong about this guy. Maybe he can turn into a reason that this team wins games in tough circumstances.”
Musgrave didn’t believe, and now Ponder must wait for that moment. He could go 20-for-22 with three touchdowns Sunday and it won’t matter, because it would be a victory over the Browns with Brian Hoyer starting at quarterback.
Bad decision, Purple brainiacs — not giving your quarterback the chance to lock up a road win in Chicago and gain big points back home.