A snapshot look at the Vikings as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Lions at Ford Field.
Player in the spotlight
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder has proven his resolve repeatedly, showcasing an impressive ability to bounce back after mistakes. On Sunday, after losing a fumble inside the Denver 10 in the first quarter and throwing an interception returned for a touchdown on the next series, Ponder kept battling and eventually threw for 381 yards with three touchdown passes.
The next step in Ponder's development, however, will be cutting back on the blunders from which he's frequently had to rebound.
In six starts, Ponder has turned the ball over nine times. Each of the past three games, he's also made major errors late. Against Denver, it was that costly interception thrown to Andre Goodman in a tie game with less than 2 minutes left.
Against Atlanta, Ponder failed to go through his reads and took a foolish if underpublicized sack on a first-and-goal play on the Vikings' final series. Versus the Raiders in Week 11, he threw an interception in the end zone with 8:10 left, thwarting an important drive in a 27-21 loss.
Coach Leslie Frazier said he firmly believes Ponder will learn from such errors.
"Eventually he's going to take us down for a game-winning drive," Frazier said.
At the very least, the rookie is gaining valuable experience in games that are relatively meaningless in the big picture.
Most pressing question
Can the Vikings find a way to get rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph more involved?
There's continued talk of the chemistry Rudolph has with Ponder. Yet in five full games together, the duo has connected only nine times on 15 attempts for 78 yards. Rudolph's 19-yard touchdown catch against Denver was incredible, a show of his body control and strong hands. But that was also the only pass thrown his way Sunday.
"Every guy he goes up against is a mismatch," Ponder said. "Kyle is so big and has such a large catching radius that I just try to put the ball up."
Ponder trusts Rudolph to make big plays. And in the season's final four games it will be up to offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to increase Rudolph's role with an eye toward the future.
Keep an eye on ...
Guard Anthony Herrera returned to the lineup Sunday and gave the Vikings a nasty edge up front. It took Herrera time to get settled after missing the previous four games because of a knee injury. But his presence sparked an outing in which the Vikings rolled up a season-best 489 yards.
"He gives us some leadership, brings some intensity to our offensive line," Frazier said. "We missed him. ... He brings a different vibe to our offense and gives us something that [we] lack at times."
Scouting the Lions
After a blazing 5-0 start, Detroit has dropped five of its past seven, chewed up by a difficult schedule. In Sunday's 31-17 loss in New Orleans, the Lions continued a troubling trend of committing boneheaded penalties, few more costly than Titus Young's personal foul early in the third quarter. With the Lions trailing 24-7 at the time, Young's after-the-whistle slap of a Saints defender took Detroit from a third-and-1 situation at the New Orleans 3 to third-and-16 at the 18. The Lions had 11 penalties for 107 yards in Sunday's loss.
True or false
Calvin Johnson should make his fantasy football owners very happy this weekend: True.
If the Vikings had difficulty covering Denver's Demaryius Thomas, they have no shot against Johnson. The Lions' most dazzling playmaker has cooled off a bit in the past month -- by his standards at least. After totaling 47 catches for 804 yards with 11 touchdowns in the Lions' first eight games, Johnson has averaged six catches for 72 yards with only one TD since Detroit's Week 9 bye. The good news: He gets a second crack at a Vikings defense he lit up for 108 yards and two TDs in Week 3. The Vikings have seen six receivers total at least 100 yards and a TD in a game against them this season.