Hartman: Ponder, Harvin form potent combo

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 20, 2012 - 7:35 AM

Other quarterbacks and receivers might grab more publicity, but the Vikings duo make an effective tandem.

If you check the statistics of Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin from the first two games, you find that quarterback Christian Ponder is doing something right, even though some of the local media fawned over Colts QB Andrew Luck last week and already have him inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

The Vikings' second-year quarterback ranks sixth with a 110.6 rating among NFL passers behind Atlanta's Matt Ryan (117.6), San Francisco's Alex Smith (115.9), St. Louis' Sam Bradford (112.4), Washington's Robert Griffin III (111.6) and San Diego's Philip Rivers (110.7).

Luck, who I admit has a great future, ranks 26th with a 75.2 rating.

As for the Ponder-Harvin connection, since last Oct. 23, Harvin is tied for the league lead with 80 receptions.

It took Harvin five games last season to catch 18 passes for 183 yards. In two games this year, the former Florida star has 18 receptions for 188 yards. Harvin caught a career-high 12 passes against the Colts. He has caught 18 of the 21 passes thrown at him this season. He is on pace for 1,500 yards this season.

I can't recall a Vikings quarterback directing comebacks such as Ponder did the past two weeks, including the two late touchdown passes to tie the score against the Colts. The Vikings could have won that game had the defense not allowed Luck to throw two 20-yard passes in the final 31 seconds to set up the winning field goal.

Asked how he would grade his performance in the first two games, Ponder said: "Likely B-minus. I think there's a lot of things I can get better at and keep progressing in. There's always room for improvement."

Ponder pointed out some of his mistakes, such as the throw he forced to Harvin that was almost picked off and taking four sacks rather than getting rid of the ball.

Even though the Vikings beat Jacksonville and lost to the Colts, Ponder said the offense progressed from the first game to the second.

"We started moving the ball pretty consistently in the first half against Indianapolis," he said. "That was good to see that progression, but we still need to do some better things."

How would he compare his performance Sunday with Luck's?

"I think it ultimately comes down to wins and losses and he won the game, so that Sunday he was better than me," Ponder said. "I think I played OK, I played well enough. You're always disappointed in any loss. It was a close one. We had the momentum late in the second half and we figured that maybe we'd win it, but that's life in the NFL."

And now Sunday, Ponder gets a real test against the 49ers, no doubt the best team in the game today with a defense that will get him time after time if the offensive line doesn't have a good day.

Brewster products star

After every Gophers game, the university makes about five players who played well available to the local media to answer questions.

Following Saturday's 28-23 victory over Western Michigan, all five Gophers who earned the right to be interviewed were recruited by former Gophers coach Tim Brewster.

Defensive back Michael Carter is a senior and linebacker Mike Rallis is a redshirt senior. Defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman and wide receiver A.J. Barker are redshirt juniors. Running back Donnell Kirkwood is a redshirt sophomore. Max Shortell, a sophomore, was a senior in high school when he committed to Brewster, then still came to Minnesota under current coach Jerry Kill after Brewster was fired.

And while Brewster might have recruited them, all five of those players certainly have shown a lot of improvement the past two years under Kill and his staff.

Barker, for example, has caught four touchdown passes in the first three games this season. He is still not on scholarship.

"I've talked to A.J., and I kind of keep that with him and myself, and he's certainly doing a good job," Kill said. "Anytime we get a player that's doing some good things, and if he can continue that through the season, that's when we reward those kids. We did it with [redshirt sophomore defensive lineman] Cameron Botticelli.

"As long as [Barker] does what he needs to, he'll be fine. I think he's having a great time right now. I'm very proud of the things that he's doing."

Jottings

• Joe Mauer, who is hitting .324 after going 1-for-4 Wednesday night against Cleveland, has a chance for his fourth league batting title. At this time in 2006, Mauer was hitting .344 and leading the Yankees' Derek Jeter, who was at .340. In 2008, he was hitting .327 and just ahead of the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia, in second at .326. And in 2009, Mauer was hitting .373, well ahead of the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki at .357.

• It appears both the Gophers and Vikings will sell out their stadiums for the first time this season this week. Both teams have 2,000-plus tickets left for games against Syracuse on Saturday and San Francisco on Sunday.

• After catching four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 against Green Bay, former Viking Randy Moss, who comes to town this weekend with the 49ers, had only one reception for 14 yards in San Francisco's Week 2 victory over Detroit.

• Gophers quarterback Shortell on injured starting QB MarQueis Gray: "MarQueis is a special player and I've learned a lot from him, watching him play. Watching him has really helped me expand my game and helped me to understand what I need to work on. I'm willing to continue to learn and try to do as much as I can with my chance when I get in. Our coaching staff does a great job working me in with reps, I'm just as prepared as the starter would be for the game. Our coaching staff does a great job with the game plan and getting me reps, so I'm well prepared for the game."

• The New York Yankees have joined Bill Austin and the Starkey Hearing Foundation to deliver hearing aids to more than 100 children and adults at Yankee Stadium on Friday at 10 a.m. Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Barbara Bush, daughter of former President George W. Bush, will be on hand to assist with the presentations.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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