It's time already: Bench McNabb and start Ponder

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 26, 2011 - 12:36 PM

It's time for the Vikings to start thinking of "Ponder" as a noun, not a verb.

This is what a football apocalypse looks like: Fans jeering, players screaming on the sideline, coaches making irrational decisions, players committing destructive penalties, and a proud group of veterans collapsing in the second half for the third consecutive week while their owners beg for a new stadium.

The meaningful portion of the Vikings' 2011 schedule concluded on Sept. 25 at the Metrodome, as they blew a 20-point halftime lead and lost in overtime, falling to 0-3. Only three teams since 1990 have made the playoffs after starting 0-3, and none of them was outscored 67-6 after halftime in their first three games, as the Vikings have been.

While most players and coaches, after the game, argued they should stay the course, that they're close to winning games and salvaging hope, history suggests they're just as likely to fund their stadium with a lucky lottery ticket as they are to make the playoffs.

So it's time for the Vikings to start thinking of "Ponder" as a noun, not a verb.

The decision to sign veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb made sense. If he played well, he could guide an ambitious team into the playoffs. If he didn't, he could buy time for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder to develop.

Having failed at the former, McNabb has already accomplished the latter. Ponder has had a full training camp and three game weeks to learn the Vikings offense.

You sign a veteran quarterback for composure and savvy, and McNabb has displayed neither when his team has needed him most. The Vikings have failed to convert their last 14 third downs after halftime. They have scored six points in three second halves. Ponder could not do worse.

McNabb is not solely responsible for the Vikings' woes, but he is the only member of the organization whose demotion could prove beneficial. You can't fire a head coach or coordinator three games into their tenures, and changing left tackles has never inspired a team or changed the direction of a franchise.

The Vikings will play at Kansas City on Sunday. Giving Ponder his first NFL start there would make sense. The Chiefs are 0-3, and Ponder, having played at Florida State, may think that all of the Indian symbolism was put in place to welcome him.

Asked if he would consider switching quarterbacks, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier almost grimaced. "I don't think the quarterback position is our problem right now," he said. "No. We're not thinking about anything at the quarterback position."

If I were Frazier, I might say the same thing. The Wilfs hired Frazier to replace Brad Childress because of his leadership skills and optimism. He instilled a sense of hope in owners who watched their team fall from 12-4 to 6-10 in one season. He promised to inspire veterans and restore calm to the locker room and sideline.

It would be out of character for Frazier to change quarterbacks and abandon his plans and seasonal aspirations after three games. But it would be the best move for the franchise.

If Ponder took over and played well, the Vikings could start building toward 2012 and intriguing a fan base that is close to abandoning them. If he took over and struggled, then the Vikings could make an informed judgment on whether he is the right quarterback to serve them for the rest of this decade. And if he proved incapable of playing quarterback in the NFL, the Vikings could even wind up with a shot at drafting Stanford star Andrew Luck.

The NFL has become not only a passing league but a passing league in which making big plays downfield is imperative. Modern coaches call big plays, like passes of 25 or more yards, "explosives." McNabb's inaccuracy has disarmed the Vikings offense.

In three games, he has completed exactly one pass for more than 25 yards. That was a screen pass that Toby Gerhart carried for 42.

Today, the Vikings have the fourth-worst starting quarterback in a four-team division that includes Jay Cutler. Ponder has a chance to change that. McNabb does not.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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