Fill-in Webb is full of surprises

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2011 - 6:26 AM

Joe Webb landed a load of playing time and did everything but make a final-play decision that could've produced a victory.

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After replacing Christian Ponder, Joe Webb found room to run on what became a 65-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Lots of room. “I was like, 'Hey, it’s like the Red Sea,’ ” Webb said.

Photo: McKenna Ewen, Star Tribune

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DETROIT - Whatever he is -- quarterback, running back, receiver, athlete -- Joe Webb provided a 23-minute highlight reel unlike any the Vikings have ever seen from a guy under center.

The second-year backup quarterback became the first Vikings quarterback to top 100 yards rushing (109), directed two scoring drives and completed eight of 13 passes to six different receivers as he moved the Vikings 79 yards to the Lions 1-yard line before the magic disappeared on the final play of Sunday's 34-28 loss at Ford Field.

"Our hat is in full off position to Joe Webb because he was very, very difficult for us to handle," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We tried everything. We were spying him with five guys, we were spying him with four, we were playing coverage, we were all-out blitzing him. He'd make one guy miss and be out the edge. That happened on the long run."

Webb replaced rookie Christian Ponder, who was benched for the first time in his career, with 8 minutes, 2 seconds left in the third quarter. Nine plays later, Webb slipped outside left defensive end Cliff Avril, looked upfield and ...

"I was like, 'Hey, it's like the Red Sea,' " said Webb, who just kept parting defenders until he had a 65-yard touchdown that moved the Vikings to within 10 points on the heels of Ponder's four crushing turnovers.

"That's what Joe can do," defensive end Jared Allen said. "That guy is dangerous. Christian can run. But Joe can run."

Webb's second series went 60 yards in 12 plays and ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Toby Gerhart. Suddenly, the Vikings were down only six points, 34-28 with 7:54 left.

Webb's scrambling extended plays, opening running lanes for him or allowing receivers time to get open. He ran seven times for 109 yards while completing 12 of 23 passes for 84 yards. His rushing yards broke the team record for a quarterback, topping Fran Tarkenton's 99 yards against the Rams 50 years ago.

Because of Ponder's hip pointer, Webb took almost the entire week's worth of snaps with the first-team offense last week. That, coupled with a heavy dose of plays from the "Blazer" package that Webb runs periodically as the backup, helped Webb gain a comfort level quickly.

He was in rhythm by the time the Vikings got the ball back at their 20-yard line with 3:32 left in the game. Spreading the ball around during an 18-play drive, Webb threw for two first downs and ran for two, including a 10-yarder on fourth-and-6 from the Lions 12.

An offside penalty on the Lions moved the ball to the 1 with 9 seconds left. An all-out blitz blew up a called pass to Kyle Rudolph, and linebacker DeAndre Levy stripped Webb of the ball. He also grabbed Webb's facemask, but that wasn't called by the officials. The ball squirted and bounced all the way back to the Vikings 43 before the Lions fell on it to end the game.

"I almost wish [Webb] would have just gone up and goosed [center John Sullivan] and run it in with a sneak there," Allen said. "But, unfortunately, that wasn't the call."

Webb understands he isn't the team's quarterback of the future. He accepts the fact Ponder was immediately declared the starter for next week's game by coach Leslie Frazier.

"But you never know when your time will come [at quarterback]," Webb said. "I thought I was starting [Sunday], but Christian was feeling better so he got the start. I stayed ready. In the future, I have to stay ready. You never know when it's going to be your time."

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