SEATTLE - If Christian Ponder had access to as many open receivers as excuses, he could set records while throwing lefthanded.
His wideouts lack speed. His blocking has collapsed on him like a decrepit mine shaft. Defenses seem to know the Vikings' offensive plays better than the Vikings. His best receiver, Percy Harvin, might have to become an MMA fighter to lessen the beatings he takes.
Ponder could fill a Rolodex with the excuses his enablers provide for him, but there is a problem with absolving him of blame.
Midway through a season that began with him looking accurate as satellite photos, Ponder isn't passing the eye test, or any statistical measure of NFL competence.
Sunday, as Adrian Peterson rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns, Ponder managed just 63 yards passing. He threw an interception that never had a chance of being anything else. He took four sacks, reducing the Vikings' net passing yardage to 44. He continued to misfire on the simplest of short passes.
Ponder's ineptitude Sunday is problematic for the Vikings on several fronts, and not just because all the world loves a backup quarterback.
He's regressing while all around the league young quarterbacks are thriving. Sunday, Seattle rookie Russell Wilson was the better quarterback on the field. While he lacks Ponder's size and arm strength, Wilson threw for 173 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He looked more decisive and poised than Ponder, too.
Ponder is regressing just when a good young quarterback would be expected to surge, midway through his second season, when grasping offensive concepts and defensive schemes should become easier. Instead, he looks like he is trying to read a Mandarin menu for the first time without ordering fish-head stew.
He is regressing just when the Vikings had raised expectations for the 2012 season. He played well enough to help the Vikings into contention; now he seems to be wilting under the pressure he helped create.
Ponder isn't just ineffective; he looks uncomfortable even playing the position.
The Vikings' problem is that they are obligated to spend this season evaluating him. Benching him in favor of Joe Webb might give the offense a momentary jolt, but any realist, inside or outside the organization, knew this season would be dedicated to developing and judging their prospective franchise quarterback. Quitting on him now would make little sense, even if Webb's aggressiveness and decisiveness might prove entertaining.
"I don't think that Christian is the problem," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We also have to look at what people are doing against us."
The Vikings might be right to stick with Ponder. They are not right to coddle him.
He played poorly. He played poorly at the most important position in the most popular league for a team in contention for the playoffs. If he can't handle criticism from his coaches or the public, he's not going to last, anyway, so Frazier and everyone else in the organization might as well start speaking the plain truth.
Ponder might want to try that, too. He's a nice guy who spends his time on the podium trying not to offend anyone. Someone needs to tell him that he's allowed to say, "I stunk, and if I don't play better than this we're not going to win many games."
Instead, for weeks now, he's said things like, "I have to get better; we need to get better as a team," in a tone of voice that makes the effective translation, "Can't we talk about the new Bond flick instead?"
Good quarterbacks carry themselves with athletic arrogance. Their confidence radiates. Ponder's body language on the field doesn't say, the way Brett Favre's did, that he's about to solve the defense and throw a touchdown pass. Ponder's body language screams that he would really like to hand off to Peterson.
His early success wasn't a mirage, but the Vikings shouldn't pretend his recent failures are, either.
It's time for everyone in the organization to admit that Ponder stinks right now, and that shrugging is not a solution.
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. • firstname.lastname@example.org