Ponder shaky at first, ends on solid footing

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2012 - 11:52 PM

After starting out looking like a wide-eyed rookie, he rose to the challenge as the game's pressure tightened -- a promising sign.

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QB Christian Ponder on Sunday showed the kind of leadership and poise the Vikings were looking for when he became a starter.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was, quite frankly, awful for the first 27 minutes of Sunday's 26-23 overtime victory over the Jaguars at Mall of America Field.

He had completed three of seven passes for 32 yards and should have been intercepted by safety Chris Prosinski on an ugly throw over the middle on his second pass of the game. The Vikings trailed 9-0 and the defense was exhausted following three consecutive drives that netted 34 yards and one first down.

"I don't know that I was uptight," Ponder said. "There were some nerves like there would be for anyone. Any time you're playing in the first game of the year, there's going to be a little nerves."

The nerves began to subside on a simple, short screen to Percy Harvin. Then another short screen to Harvin. Then another. Three consecutive completions netted 32 yards and led to Adrian Peterson's 3-yard touchdown with 45 seconds left in the first half.

"[Ponder] just got comfortable," said Harvin, who caught six passes for 84 yards. "We tried to get him into some short passing situations to get his confidence up. And we were able to do that."

After Ponder's 3-for-7 start, he completed 17 of 20 passes for 238 yards, no touchdowns, a 105.5 passer rating and one turnover, a fumble inside the Vikings 20-yard line.

"Christian has grown so much," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's growing up right before our eyes, and we really feel like he's the guy who can lead us to big places, and today was a big step towards seeing that happen."

It was Ponder's first victory at home as a starter. He's 3-8 as a starter, although he left last year's victory at Washington with the Vikings trailing. Sunday's victory also marked the second time Ponder has led a game-winning comeback in regulation or overtime.

From the time the Jaguars took a 23-20 lead with 20 seconds left, Ponder completed five of five passes for 60 yards to four different receivers. Two of Devin Aromashodu's three catches were a 26-yarder with 14 seconds left in regulation and a 17-yarder to the Jacksonville 25-yard line in overtime. Blair Walsh kicked the 38-yard field goal that won the game four plays later.

"[Jacksonville] played pretty soft in coverage," Ponder said. "I think they were trying to make us run the ball and make me be patient and force balls downfield. They were definitely softer on that last drive in the fourth quarter."

Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught five passes for 67 yards, said the slow start wasn't just Ponder's fault.

"We all came out slow and struggling," Rudolph said. "But at the end, Christian was as poised as we thought he'd be. There's 20 seconds left and we needed a field goal. We work on that every day in practice, all the time. Christian executed it exactly the way he's supposed to."

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