Ponder to naysayers: Don't pin slump on my ESPN girlfriend

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2012 - 11:31 PM

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder slung a sarcastic shot at fans who had wondered whether his recent struggles were heightened by his new romance with ESPN sideline reporter Samantha Steele.

Photo: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

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Give Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder credit for having a good sense of humor.

Ponder heard many of the themes that mushroomed up about his recent struggles. The second-year quarterback had been skewered by critics, and justifiably so given his 372 total passing yards in the past three games.

In a bounce-back performance Sunday, Ponder threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers in a 34-24 victory over Detroit.

Then he used his postgame press conference to crack wise. He fired the first bullet at himself, poking fun at his minus-15 yard reception on an early pass batted back to him by Cliff Avril.

Ponder also slung a sarcastic shot at fans who had wondered whether his recent struggles were heightened by his new romance with ESPN sideline reporter Samantha Steele.

Ponder rolled his eyes at such speculation from the beginning, especially since his relationship with Steele had been going on while the Vikings were rolling to a 5-2 start.

"I want to thank my girlfriend," Ponder said after Sunday's game. "Because she obviously has such a big impact on how I play. Which allowed me to win. So thank you."

Lost, then found

With Percy Harvin sidelined because of a sprained left ankle, it was no surprise Ponder's top target was Kyle Rudolph. The second-year tight end caught seven passes for 64 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown.

Rudolph had only two catches for 17 yards in the previous three games.

"We actually have been emphasizing Kyle," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We just hadn't been able to get him uncovered. We did some things today to try to get that done from a schematic standpoint and also formation-wise. We were able to connect."

Quick change

Erin Henderson played most of the snaps at middle linebacker in the nickel defense, his most extensive action in the formation with five defensive backs since Week 2. Frazier said Henderson moved back into the nickel role as an effort to spark Jasper Brinkley's play in the base defense.

"It helped to take some of that off his plate to concentrate on what we're doing run defense-wise and pass defense-wise on first and second downs," Frazier said.

Where's Calvin?

The Vikings' hope to limit Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson succeeded early, as he had only four catches for 36 yards in the first half. But the Lions star erupted after halftime, finishing with 12 catches for 207 yards, including an 11-yard fourth-quarter TD.

Said Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield: "Every time you play Detroit, you have to have No. 81 awareness. That guy is a special player."

The touchdown was only the second of the season for Johnson, who was third in the NFL with 16 TDs in 2011.

Back again

Safety Mistral Raymond made his return seven weeks after dislocating his right ankle. He worked in periodically, supplanting Jamarca Sanford for several series.

"Listening to what the coaches were saying on the headset, they thought he was doing pretty good, moving around fairly well," Frazier said. "I know he was a little concerned about his conditioning and where he was as I talked to him during the week. But I think, in the reps we have him, he functioned well."

Just for kicks

Vikings punter Chris Kluwe was looking forward to having the media go back to the usual NFL custom of "ignoring the punter." But that will be harder to do if Kluwe produces the way he did Sunday.

Drawing much of his attention this season for his outspoken thoughts on gay rights, Kluwe hoped the end of election season would allow him to step out of the spotlight. On Sunday, he averaged 48.6 yards on five punts, pinning two inside the Detroit 20.

Most importantly, Kluwe made a touchdown-saving tackle on Stefan Logan's 31-yard return. That stop came with 9:58 left and the Vikings ahead 24-17.

Upon further review

Sunday's most bizarre play was an odd Detroit incompletion that, for a minute anyway, was ruled as an Winfield touchdown. Late in the first half, Matthew Stafford fired a bullet to Tony Scheffler that went right through the Lions tight end's hands. The ball hit Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson in the shin and bounced right to Winfield, who stood still for 3 seconds until there was no whistle. Then he took off for the end zone for a 34-yard return score.

The play, however, was overturned when replays showed the ball hitting the ground after hitting Jefferson.

Etc.

• Rookie Blair Walsh not only went 4-for-4 on field goals, but he also produced touchbacks on six of his eight kickoffs. His 41 touchbacks for the season broke Mitch Berger's team record of 40 set in 1998.

• Nose tackle Letroy Guion missed the game, still dealing with a turf toe injury. Fred Evans started in his place.

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