HOUSTON - Last Monday, Christian Ponder got married. On Sunday, he got down on one knee.
Six days after driving to Wisconsin for a stealth wedding, Ponder knelt in the victory formation at the end of an impressive 23-6 road victory over the Houston Texans, one way of proposing that the Vikings are a playoff team.
"Coach Frazier said I should get married every other day," Ponder said.
That may be illegal in Minnesota, but pretty much anything goes in Wisconsin, so it's a possibility.
It's difficult to say whether his marriage or his success proved more surprising to Minnesotans this week. Sunday he faced one of the NFL's strongest teams on the road knowing that a loss would all but eliminate the Vikings from the playoff chase. He completed 16 of 30 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions, although he did fumble once.
He also ran seven times for 48 yards, including a 29-yarder in the fourth quarter during which he looked like he intended to run out the clock, even though there were nine minutes left. He took off right, cut back left, then looked for a patch of turf with the right sleep number before sliding to a stop.
He took the kind of route, at about the same speed, as a fan trying to avoid security personal while streaking.
"I was tired," he said. "So I just slid and said, OK, and gave up."
In other NFL precincts there were quarterbacks throwing for 400 yards. Ponder isn't ready to duel with them.
In other NFL precincts there were quarterbacks losing their jobs or getting their coaches fired. After a string of midseason games during which he looked like he was shrinking, Ponder no longer looks he should be approached only by those wearing Haz-Mat suits.
Since throwing two killing interceptions at Green Bay on Dec. 2, Ponder has guided the Vikings to three consecutive victories while throwing just one interception, and his résumé now includes victories against the Texans and 49ers, two of the league's best teams.
"I knew I had to play my best," he said.
Ponder has begun taking advantage of defenses cantilevered to stop Adrian Peterson, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has designed game plans based on play-action fakes and bootlegs. That game-planning has been most obvious early in games.
During the first Vikings' drive of the past three games, Ponder is 7-for-7 passing for 111 yards, with three runs for 9 yards. Those three drives have ended with a Peterson touchdown run, a Ponder touchdown run and a Ponder touchdown pass.
It's not just the teams that are unpredictable in the NFL. It's the individuals, too. Ponder hit a professional low in the loss at Green Bay, throwing two interceptions that looked more like indictments than mistakes. After that game, Peterson and Frazier, among others, stopped by Ponder's locker to console him as the quarterback stared at his feet and lingered in his uniform.
Sunday afternoon, Frazier approached Ponder in the locker room and yelled "CP!" He threw his arms around his quarterback, whispered something, and the two began laughing.
"I told him," Frazier said, "that marriage suits him well."
Ponder then dressed and made his way to the interview room, where he was greeted by television cameras set up in a darkened room.
"I like the romantic lighting," he said. "It's nice."
Yes, he really said that. Six days after getting married while many fans screamed virtual screams about his lack of commitment to football, Ponder earned his most meaningful victory and joked about romantic lighting.
Ponder has handled scrutiny of his play with grace. He was asked whether scrutiny of his personal life, particularly the timing of his marriage, is more difficult to bear.
"It's different," he said. "It's something that obviously comes with the territory.
"Football is very important to me. Whatever goes on in my personal life, I'm 100 percent focused on football. When it takes an hour of my day to get married, I'm not losing any time in the film room."
Every week in the NFL provides a different challenge, though, and this week will mark the first time Ponder has played a team from the state that just hosted his wedding.
For the sake of Vikings fans, why couldn't he have just driven to Dubuque?
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