Hartman: QB job still Ponder's when healthy

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2011 - 6:21 AM

Joe Webb made the most of his chance to practice with the first team, but it's also clear Christian Ponder wasn't himself after his hip pointer.

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Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder dropped back to pass in the first quarter in a 34-28 loss to the Lions in Detroit on Sunday.

Photo: Rick Osentoski, Associated Press

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Is there a quarterback controversy between Joe Webb and Christian Ponder, after the way Webb played in place of Ponder in the Vikings' 34-28 loss at Detroit on Sunday?

I don't think so. I think Ponder, when healthy, will still be the No. 1 quarterback. But Webb might get another chance to perform Sunday against the Saints.

Still, give Webb credit for making the most of the snaps he took in practice this past week with Ponder injured. Once Webb took over in the second half, he scored on a 65-yard run, threw a 2-yard TD pass to Toby Gerhart, then marched the Vikings down to the Lions 1-yard line in the final seconds before his final-play fumble, which occurred after a clear facemask penalty on Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy that wasn't called. Fox Sports' Brian Billick identified it as a missed call during the telecast.

Certainly, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier will get an apology telephone call from the NFL saying the officials missed the call.

No doubt Ponder, who had limited practice time last week after suffering a hip pointer, wasn't himself, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble that led to 17 points for Detroit.

When it was obvious that Ponder couldn't scramble like he normally can, the decision was made to replace him with Webb.

Ponder wound up completing 11 of 21 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns, but the three interceptions and 60.7 rating showed he wasn't physically ready to play his normal game.

Webb was not bad with his passing, completing 12 of 23 passes for 84 yards and the one TD, but he was great with his feet, too. His 109 rushing yards surpassed Fran Tarnkenton's 99 for the most by a QB in Vikings history.

Billick, the former Vikings assistant and Ravens coach again working a Vikings game for Fox, did compliment Ponder by saying that the first-round choice showed a lot of courage by hanging in there after his turnovers helped Detroit to a 21-0 first-quarter lead.

Yes, give the Vikings credit for not giving up, coming within one play of an incredible comeback.

The Vikings defense helped out, too. Detroit was held to three points and 109 yards in the second half. Along the line, Jared Allen had three sacks and Kevin Williams, healthy and playing again at a Pro Bowl level, added six tackles.

And give the depleted secondary some credit as Lions superstar receiver Calvin Johnson had only three catches for 29 yards.

Again, it was a game the Vikings could have won, but they aren't going to win many turning the ball over like they did. And even though Gerhart ran for 90 yards, when the Vikings don't have Adrian Peterson in the lineup, they aren't the same team.

Morneau still ailing

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau reported that his injured left wrist is still keeping him from doing his normal offseason workouts.

Doctors told Morneau after he had surgery at the end of the season that it would take about three months before it would return to normal. He plans to see the surgeon around Christmas.

"I was in a hard cast for six weeks and I'm in a splint now for another six weeks, and that time's almost up," Morneau said.

Speaking about last season, Morneau said: "It wasn't a lot of fun, especially with how much we struggled on the field. When I was out there, I wasn't doing as well as I'd like to, so it wears on you mentally. You can't be out there with your teammates, you don't feel like you're part of the team, and you're sitting there and guys are going out there battling every day. It makes it tough.

"So this year, to get Joe [Mauer] back healthy, we get Denard [Span] back healthy and we get everybody out there. I think our lineup looks pretty solid, and I think we can compete in this division and win this division."

Morneau said he would do whatever the team wants him to if health prevents him from playing first base.

"If that means me DHing and Joe playing first once in a while or wherever it is, if that's what we need to do, I'm all for it," Morneau said. "But if it means I'm not healthy enough to play first base and I should DH, then I probably shouldn't be playing in the first place if there's that much of a risk. It's not like hockey or football, where there's actually contact every time you're out there. It's baseball, and stuff happens. You can get hit in the head by a pitch; there are a million different things that can happen during the game that you hope doesn't happen. ... Hopefully that's not the case, and I don't expect that to be the case."

Break for Levine

Former Gophers receiver Tony Levine has been around the coaching circles with several teams. The St. Paul Highland Park alum got a break this year when he was named assistant head coach at the University of Houston under Kevin Sumlin, who got to know Levine when he was a Gophers assistant under Jim Wacker.

Levine, who joined Sumlin's staff in 2008, was named Cougars interim coach Saturday with Sumlin moving to Texas A&M. Levine, 39, will coach Houston (12-1) vs. Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2 in Dallas.

No doubt Levine will be considered for the job full-time.

"This is a great opportunity to coach against Penn State," Levine said. "I believe I have a good chance [to get the Houston job]. If not, I will join Sumlin at Texas A&M."

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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