Scoggins: Don't anyone dare say it (quarterback controversy)

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2011 - 11:59 AM

Christian Ponder is reeling, but he needs to stay on the field to learn from his rookie mistakes.

DETROIT - Leslie Frazier delivered a clear, succinct, unequivocal response when asked Sunday if he knows who his starting quarterback will be next week.

"If Christian [Ponder] is healthy, he's our No. 1 quarterback," the Vikings coach said.

Really? No issue at all?

"No issue," Frazier said. "Christian is our starting quarterback."

That, we assume, will cause some consternation and second-guessing from Vikings fans in light of what transpired in a 34-28 loss to the Detroit Lions in a game that was strange from start to finish.

Ponder showed off his charitable spirit, accounting for four turnovers before being benched early in the second half with his team trailing 31-14.

Joe Webb replaced him and gave the offense a spark in his first extended playing time since last season. Webb weaved through defenders and kept plays alive with his feet to pull the Vikings to within one final play of escaping the Motor City with an unlikely victory.

That final play went haywire, but Frazier shot down any notion that he has a quarterback controversy percolating after Ponder's dud. That might not be a universally popular decision, but it's the right one.

As much as we're intrigued by Webb's talent and ability to make a busted play look so darn exciting, the Vikings need to stick with Ponder through thick and thin. They can't scrap their plan because he has a stinker performance. Ponder needs experience; the team needs to evaluate him extensively to see if he is indeed the quarterback of the future. Pulling the plug after a miserable outing or two isn't the answer.

At some point, though, Ponder needs to harness his competitive streak and make better decisions. Yes, he's a rookie, but throwing across your body on the run is not a rookie mistake. That is a no-no at any level of football.

"I was hurting the team more than I was helping the team," he said.

His third interception got him the hook. Frazier also felt that his quarterback did not look completely comfortable because of his hip injury.

Ponder missed two days of practice last week and was listed as questionable. He worked out before the game and said he felt some tightness but not much pain.

In hindsight, neither Ponder nor Frazier felt the decision to play was a mistake.

"I don't like to use the injury as an excuse," Ponder said. "I made great plays with the injury, I made bad plays with the injury. I just didn't play that well."

His turnover parade began on the first play as right tackle Phil Loadholt gave defensive end Cliff Avril a free run at Ponder off the edge. Avril knocked the ball out of Ponder's hand, and it was recovered by Detroit's Stephen Tulloch in the end zone for a touchdown.

On the next series, Ponder threw into triple coverage and was intercepted by Alphonso Smith. The Lions also converted that turnover into seven points. Smith intercepted Ponder again in the second quarter and returned it 30 yards for a pick-six.

Ponder's third interception was particularly egregious. Rolling right, he saw Percy Harvin flash briefly in his field of vision. Ponder whipped it across his body and into the hands of Detroit's Eric Wright.

Frazier had seen enough.

"In the past, he would have thrown it away or tried to get some yards with his legs," Frazier said. "When he didn't, that's not the Christian we're accustomed to seeing."

Ponder's turnovers are becoming all too common, however. He's committed seven turnovers in the past two games and now has 11 interceptions and two lost fumbles in seven starts.

Growing pains were expected, but his giveaways are alarming. And they can't be pinned solely on the lack of talent around him.

"You can't force things that aren't there," he noted.

That's become a common refrain for Ponder. Perhaps he'll cut down on those mistakes as he gets more experience. That's the Vikings' hope anyway. But the only way to find out is for Ponder to be on the field. The fact he needed relief Sunday shouldn't change that.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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