With Percy Harvin out, Christian Ponder better utilized all his receivers in dissecting the Lions.
Christian Ponder didn't need a boxscore Sunday to realize he had spent most of his afternoon spreading the ball around to whoever wanted in.
But when Ponder did finally survey his stats from a 34-24 victory over Detroit, he discovered his 24 completions had gone to 10 different players.
There were deep balls to receivers and key third-down completions to tight ends. There were screens and check-downs to running backs. And, yes, Ponder even inadvertently completed one pass to himself, a connection he probably wanted a do-over for given that Lions defensive end Cliff Avril batted that ball back to him, then flung Ponder for a 15-yard loss.
"Unfortunately," Ponder quipped, "I'm going to have to throw myself another 15-yard pass to negate the negative 15 yards."
Ponder's good humor after Sunday's victory proved refreshing after the way he had approached postgame podiums the previous three weeks. After completing only eight passes and throwing for 58 yards in a Week 7 victory over Arizona, Ponder classified his own mood as "disappointed."
After a lopsided loss to Tampa Bay, his dejection spiked.
Then, when the bottom seemed to drop out of the passing attack with 44 net yards during a 30-20 loss in Seattle, Ponder seemed downright despondent.
But on Sunday, the 24-year-old quarterback found a way to revive the positive energy that characterized the season's first seven weeks. It started with the Vikings' effort to spread the ball around.
"We felt like we had become a little stagnant and predictable in some ways," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We needed Christian to understand the importance of moving it to different people because of what defenses are doing [to us]."
'A blessing in disguise'
From the outside, having to play without Percy Harvin might have seemed like a major handicap for the Vikings. It's not often a sputtering passing attack can lose the NFL's catch leader and emerge even sharper. But running back Adrian Peterson said last Friday he believed Harvin's temporary absence could be "a blessing in disguise."
Those words seemed prophetic after the Vikings torched Detroit for a season-high 34 points plus 403 total yards, their third-highest output of the year.
Ponder's pocket presence and overall calm proved to be the linchpin. Knowing a restless Mall of America Field crowd could turn vicious if their mercurial quarterback struggled, Frazier said he and his staff made certain to set Ponder up for an encouraging start.
The Vikings' first play came in a five-receiver spread set they hadn't used all season. Ponder's first pass, on his third read, went only 1 yard downfield to fullback Jerome Felton near the right sideline. That produced a gain of 5.
Not exactly the explosive or sandlot play design most fans would have dreamed up to ignite the offense. But it was a steadying completion nonetheless.
And it began a 67-yard touchdown drive that put the Vikings ahead for good less than 8 minutes into the game.
Jarius Wright's 54-yard reception on a post route provided the most dazzling fireworks of that opening series. It came with Wright showcasing his speed and Ponder resisting the urge to leave the pocket. Instead he bounced forward to create throwing space for what Lions coach Jim Schwartz characterized as "a javelin throw."
"He got about three crow hops before he threw it," Schwartz noted.
Maybe Rio 2016 could be in Ponder's future.
"For us to step up and start the first drive like that was huge," Ponder said.
Practice makes perfect
All afternoon, Ponder seemed to take an extra breath and make an extra read. He didn't turn the ball over and was sacked only once.
Most importantly, the Vikings offense seemed as diverse as it has been all season.
Ponder connected on five balls thrown more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Those completions produced 131 yards. Twelve of Ponder's completions came between the numbers with the Vikings intent on using the middle of the field.
As the outside world spent last week worrying about the fragility of Ponder's psyche, the quarterback insisted his confidence would be built up through diligent preparation. To that end, Frazier said Ponder's drive produced an extraordinary week of practice.
"Particularly on Friday, he was really on fire," Frazier said. "We were going from one drill to another and I said, 'You have to save some of this for Sunday now.'"
Ponder listened and did his part to keep the Vikings in the NFC playoff picture.
|Pittsburgh - LP: F. Liriano||0||FINAL|
|Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto||4|
|Tampa Bay - LP: J. Odorizzi||0||FINAL|
|Baltimore - WP: M. Gonzalez||3|
|Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Hammel||0||FINAL|
|NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka||3|
|St. Louis - LP: J. Kelly||1||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - WP: W. Peralta||5|
|NY Mets - WP: D. Gee||5||FINAL|
|Arizona - LP: B. McCarthy||2|
|Atlanta||0||Top 1st Inning|
|Chicago Cubs||0||Top 1st Inning|
|Cleveland||0||Top 1st Inning|
|Washington||0||Bottom 1st Inning|
|Seattle - F. Hernandez||7:05 PM|
|Texas - Y. Darvish|
|Boston - C. Buchholz||7:10 PM|
|Chicago WSox - J. Danks|
|Kansas City - J. Guthrie||7:10 PM|
|Houston - D. Keuchel|
|Oakland - T. Milone||9:05 PM|
|LA Angels - T. Skaggs|
|Colorado - J. De La Rosa||9:10 PM|
|San Diego - A. Cashner|
|Los Angeles - P. Maholm||9:15 PM|
|San Francisco - R. Vogelsong|
|Chicago||6||1st Qtr 9:41|
|Indiana||0||1st Qtr 11:22|
|LA Lakers||7:00 PM|
|Golden State||9:30 PM|
|LA Clippers||9:30 PM|
|Montreal||0||1st Prd 18:24|
|Red Bull New York|
|Aug 9 - vs. Houston||7 pm||X||27-13|
|Aug 16 - at Buffalo||6 pm||X||20-16|
|Aug 25 - at San Francisco||7 pm||X||34-14|
|Aug 29 - vs. Tennessee||7 pm||X||24-23|
|2013 regular season|
|Sep 8 - at Detroit||Noon||X||34-24|
|Sep 15 - at Chicago||Noon||X||31-30|
|Sep 22 - vs. Cleveland||Noon||X||31-27|
|Sep 29 - vs. Pittsburgh (in London)||Noon||X||34-27|
|Oct 6 - Bye|
|Oct 13 - vs. Carolina||Noon||X||35-10|
|Oct 21 - at. NY Giants||7:40 pm||X||23-7|
|Oct 27 - vs. Green Bay||7:30 pm||X||44-31|
|Nov 3 - at Dallas||Noon||X||27-23|
|Nov 7 - vs. Washington||7:25 pm||X||34-27|
|Nov 17 - at Seattle||3:25 pm||X||41-20|
|Nov. 24 - at Green Bay||Noon||26-26|
|Dec 1 - vs. Chicago||Noon||X||23-20|
|Dec 8 - at Baltimore||Noon||X||29-26|
|Dec 15 - vs. Philadelphia||Noon||X||48-30|
|Dec 22 - at Cincinnati||Noon||X||42-14|
|Dec 29 - vs. Detroit||Noon||X||14-13|