Vikings coach Leslie Frazier reported Sunday that although Christian Ponder was able to finish the regular-season finale against the Packers, when the quarterback came into Winter Park last Monday, his biceps muscle was swollen and discolored and he had hardly any range of motion.
Frazier said the condition of Ponder's injury -- which kept the quarterback out of Saturday's 24-10 playoff loss at Green Bay after he started every game for the Vikings this season -- got better as the week went on, but not to the point where he could go out and throw a ball in an NFL game.
"We had an idea, just watching him and seeing his progress, and we were all hoping that at least by Friday or Saturday it would loosen up a little bit more, but it really didn't happen," Frazier said.
Frazier added that he was encouraged by the play of backup Joe Webb on the first drive, when the team moved the ball on the ground and scored on a field goal, but then things slowed down.
"We had some things going there in that first drive and we just couldn't put enough together over the course of the game to offset some of the things that they were doing," he said.
Frazier also said it was tough for Webb to get comfortable over the course of the game, but that is something a second-string quarterback has to be ready for.
"That's life for a backup," Frazier said. "You don't get a lot of game repetitions so, you have to get it in practice, and he was put in a tough spot. He battled but just couldn't make enough plays for us to get over the hump."
First loss at Lambeau changed everything
Looking back on the Vikings' surprising 10-6 season and playoff berth, Frazier said he felt that even though the team lost a close game at Green Bay 23-14 in Week 13, that game helped the team come together as much as any it had played this season.
"It was a tough loss for us on the road, but I saw some things within our team that made me believe that we had the chemistry to get it going in late December, and we did," he said of a Vikings team that won its last four games to make the playoffs.
Frazier also sang the praises of his staff, saying coaches worked hard to keep players buying into the fact that they could make the playoffs despite being picked for dead last in the NFC North in most preseason polls.
"Our guys, they just believed and they worked hard and they understand how to win in our league," Frazier said. "They never gave up on the season, and that's what you have to do in our league. You can't ever give up on your season, you have to keep believing, and our guys did."
As for Ponder and his steady play at the end of the season, Frazier said: "He really came on late. He got off to a great start for us, and he hit a little bump in the road in the middle of the season and he really bounced back when we needed him in the month of December and helped to ensure that we won those games in late December. I was encouraged by the progresses he made."
The Vikings also got a lot of contributions from their rookies. The 2012 draft might go down as one of the best in franchise history.
"Our draft picks, they did a great job for us," Frazier said. "Matt Kalil, Harrison [Smith], Rhett Ellison, Josh Robinson, I mean every guy that we drafted, Robert Blanton, they all contributed in some form or fashion to our season, with the exception of [Greg] Childs, who got hurt in training camp. It was a good draft for us.
"I'm sure Rick Spielman and his staff are working hard right now to accumulate some names. We need to have another good draft."
While the speculation locally and in NFL circles is that Percy Harvin won't be back with the Vikings next season because of his personal problems with the franchise, Frazier said: "I don't see any reason why Percy wouldn't be back with us. He should be."
You would think that if Harvin, who was put on injured reserve last month, is traded, the Vikings would get a strong package for him.
The Vikings will have other key personnel decisions to make moving forward, too.
"We have some guys that are free agents," Frazier said. "We'll have to determine which guys we want to bring back, which guys are not going to be back with us, which is one of the hardest things in this league.
"Then we have to move on and start getting ready for this draft. We have to start learning about these college players and get a feel for who might fit what we're trying to get done. That will be a long, hard task ahead of us."
But as Frazier pointed out, the club has a much better foundation than it had a year ago, when it went 3-13.
"There's no question we feel much better about the results of this season. That's what you want to do, you want to keep improving every single year," the coach said. "I think that we have so many first- and second-year guys that contributed to our success this season, that if we can add a few more pieces to the puzzle, we have a chance to really take another leap. We have to do our work this offseason in shoring up some areas and making sure that we improve again."
There are a lot of former Notre Dame players in the Vikings locker room pulling for the team to beat Alabama on Monday, but nobody more so than Vikings defensive backs coach Joe Woods, who worked with Irish coach Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State from 1994 to '96. "Coach Kelly had an innovative mind," Woods said. "Just in terms of offensive football. I know he coached on both sides of the ball, but he was a young head coach, he was very energetic, the players loved to play for him, and we had a lot of success in my time there. We won and went to the playoffs two out of the three years, but I always knew he was going to move on to bigger and better things."
Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the team had not prepared defensively for Webb to start Saturday. "The coaches never said anything to us," Williams said. "I saw it on TV actually. Up in the training room I was watching TV and they said Christian Ponder is not going to play. ... The guy we focused on was [Adrian Peterson]. So we didn't change anything."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the key to victory was containing Peterson more than anything else. "Our defense was outstanding for four quarters. They set the tempo and adjusted to the quarterback change," McCarthy said. "[They] played with leverage, played with discipline and obviously rallied to the football. [Peterson] is a great player. ... I thought our defense played with great discipline."
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