There's been a lot of talk about Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder's performance this season and whether or not he is the quarterback of the future for the Vikings. But if you compare his stats to the early years of some of today's premier NFL quarterbacks, it's clear Ponder is performing well in his second year as a starter.
Ponder has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,186 yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His quarterback rating of 82.0 is 11.9 points better than his rookie season. If you extrapolate his numbers out for 16 games, Ponder is on pace for 3,180 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
In Tom Brady's second season as a starter with the Patriots -- and his third season in the league -- he posted a 85.7 QB rating, completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 3,764 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 16 games.
Peyton Manning posted a 90.7 quarterback rating in his second season with the Colts, starting 16 games. He threw for 4,135 yards while completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 26 touchdowns with 15 interceptions.
Matt Ryan started 14 games in his second season with the Falcons, posting a 80.9 QB rating while completing 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,916 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
So Ponder, who has dealt with a lot of dropped passes from a depleted receiving corps, still is completing passes at a higher percentage than either Brady, Manning or Ryan did in their second seasons as starters. His quarterback rating would place him in third, ahead of Ryan, while his touchdown and interception rates are less stellar than Brady and Manning.
It's always easy to pin blame on the quarterback, but Ponder clearly is performing at a high level for a second-year starter in the NFL.
Ponder believes he has made a lot of strides in a lot of different areas this season.
"That's the one thing that goes on is it is about progression and that I'm always getting better," he said. "There has been a progression from last year to this year, but I still have a lot of things I can improve on and a pretty big progression needs to happen these next couple of games.
"I think it's always a progression from the first couple years, and I definitely think there was a jump from Year 1 to Year 2. I'm hoping the same will continue from Year 2 to Year 3. But I'm trying to not focus on Year 3, I'm focusing on this game against Green Bay first."
The Vikings are a different team offensively when wide receiver Percy Harvin is absent. He has missed the past two games because of a sprained left ankle and was limping through part of practice Wednesday.
"We miss him a lot," Ponder said. "He was a big part of this offense, and we saw what he could do in the first half of the season and we can't wait for him to get back.
"Percy attracts a lot of attention from defenses and allows other people to get open. When he has the ball in his hands, he's really good but he's also good without the ball in his hands. We'd like to see him back on the field for sure."
Ponder played his first game at Lambeau Field (his third NFL start) about a year ago on a Monday night. He completed 16 of 34 passes for 190 yards and one interception in a 45-7 loss. It was his second start against Green Bay, having lost a close game 33-27 at the Metrodome earlier in the season in his first career NFL start.
"Obviously it's a historical place to play, a great atmosphere to play in, and it's supposed to be warm on Sunday, so I'll be [fine]," Ponder said. "It's a tough environment to play in. They play real well at home and have a great crowd and a good atmosphere.
"Obviously last year wasn't what we wanted it to be, we didn't play well. But this year it's a Sunday noon game, and it will be just as much fun."
Dr. Pat Smith, one of the great orthopedic physicians in the country, has been a doctor for the Gophers football program for 28 years and points to this season as "the worst year we've had from multiple types of injuries, including concussions. We've had six [ACL] tears, we usually average one a year. We've had a broken tibia, high ankle sprains. All kinds of disabling injuries that people can't play with, that are slow to heal, that are, in some ways, season-ending.
"A young team doesn't have a lot of depth anyway. We're playing all these young players without a lot of depth and then having injuries that are season-ending. It has been really impossible to come back from."
• While Trevor Mbakwe is off to a solid start with the Gophers basketball team, averaging 8.1 points and 6.4 rebounds after recovering from ACL surgery, the 6-8 forward is convinced he will be playing a lot better a month from know when he can shed the heavy brace he is wearing on his knee.
• Northern Illinois, where the Gophers' Jerry Kill coached two years ago, went 11-1 this year and will play Kent State for the Mid-American Conference title. ... In his 60 years as football coach at St. John's, John Gagliardi came close to moving and taking only one other job, with the University of San Diego in 1982.
• Some credit for the success of coach Bill O'Brien and the Penn State football team -- which went 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten in spite of the Jerry Sandusky scandal -- should go to a couple former Gophers coaches. Ted Roof, a former Gophers defensive coordinator, has the same job at Penn State while former Gophers linebackers and special teams coach John Butler is in charge of the secondary for the Nittany Lions.
• Alex Foster, the 6-8 forward from Seton Academy in South Holland, Ill., who recently signed with the Gophers, opened the season with 21 points and six rebounds in a 75-57 victory over Morton in the Lincoln Round Robin tournament Nov. 19. ... Alvin Ellis of De La Salle High School in Chicago, a 6-4 guard who also recently signed with the Gophers, was named the most valuable player as his team won the Hinsdale South tournament. The Meteors defeated the host school 60-54 in the title game.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org