Ponder miscues were fatal for offense short on talent

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 21, 2011 - 6:05 AM

The rookie quarterback took blame for the loss after throwing three interceptions, finding the NFL a tough place to learn on the job.

Despite everything that went wrong Sunday -- and there certainly was a lot -- Christian Ponder somehow found himself with a chance to orchestrate a game-winning drive.

Trailing the Oakland Raiders by six points with three minutes left on the clock, Ponder led the offense onto the field to see if he could pull a rabbit out of a hat.

"That's what you look for and you're excited about, especially as the quarterback," Ponder said.

But on a day of misfires and bad decisions, Ponder failed to generate anything. The drive went 17 yards and ended, fittingly, when Oakland safety Tyvon Branch deflected Ponder's pass intended for Percy Harvin on fourth down.

One player wasn't solely responsible for the mess that piled up in a 27-21 loss, but Ponder didn't tap dance around his contribution to the Vikings' eighth defeat.

"Not a fun loss, especially when so much of that loss is contributed to my play," he said. "A lot of mistakes by me. I take full responsibility for this loss. The defense played unbelievably well. They kept us in the game. We just kept making mistakes, especially me. I kept making mistakes, kept turning the ball over. You can't win games that way."

Ponder threw three interceptions, two in the red zone. He was sacked five times. He looked like a guy hellbent on making something happen, even when the situation called for restraint.

Ponder passed for 211 yards and two touchdowns and burned a few blitzes by scrambling for 71 yards. But his mistakes were killer.

He locked in on Harvin near the goal line in the second quarter and safety Matt Giordano pounced on it.

"I tried to force a throw that I shouldn't have made," Ponder said. "You're not going to make that throw in the NFL. It's not going to be a completion."

On his second interception, Ponder rolled left and threw across his body into traffic.

"As a quarterback you're never supposed to do [that]," he said.

His third interception hurt the most. Trailing by 13 in the fourth quarter, the Vikings moved the ball to the Oakland 5. Ponder rolled right and tried to thread a pass to Devin Aromashodu in the end zone. Three Raiders were in the area, and cornerback Stanford Routt grabbed it.

Ponder said he got overly aggressive and should have thrown the ball away.

"It's four-down territory," he said. "That cost us big time. Not smart."

For all the hype and hope that Ponder's ascension to starter created in an otherwise miserable season, the inescapable truth is that rookie quarterbacks also experience days like Sunday. Ponder is no different.

He is going to take his lumps, especially given the talent surrounding him, and the Vikings can only hope he learns from these experiences. Maybe the next time he won't be so aggressive in those situations.

"I think probably all three of those interceptions I tried to do too much," he said. "Tried to make a play out of nothing. In the NFL they're going to cost you. It's not worth it."

If there is a silver lining, it came in Ponder's response after his third interception. The Vikings got the ball back on a fumble recovery. On the first play, Ponder hit tight end Visanthe Shiancoe with a perfect pass up the seam to the 1-yard line.

"It does you no good to sulk and feel bad for yourself," he said.

Ponder's mistakes were amplified because of the situation and location on the field, but the blame shouldn't be placed all on his shoulders. Other than Harvin, his receiving corps sorely lacks playmakers. His offensive line gave him little time or protection. And the offense became one-dimensional after Adrian Peterson injured his ankle and the score became lopsided.

The Raiders copied the Green Bay Packers blueprint and blitzed Ponder consistently. He'll see the same thing next week against Atlanta, and so on.

"It's probably going to be what we are going to see the rest of the season until we show we can hit some big plays down the field," coach Leslie Frazier said.

Ponder acknowledged the same thing. He knows what to expect, but that doesn't guarantee desired results. The offense has to execute and he must make better decisions.

Neither happened Sunday, and this team simply isn't good enough to overcome that.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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