Obviously, this is a distressing place for the Vikings. They enter the season with plenty of promise but no guarantee that their starting quarterback is equipped to take them to the next level.
Such fears don’t exist in New England or Denver, New Orleans or Atlanta. Heck, those worries aren’t anywhere else in the NFC North.
So as a tonic for such confusion, the Vikings point to last December, specifically Week 17.
That was the last time we saw Ponder in game action. It was a high-stakes, rivalry clash against Green Bay with a playoff berth on the line for the Vikings — a more meaningful measure of moxie and potential than any training camp drill ever will be.
On that afternoon, with Aaron Rodgers in a zone, Ponder dialed in.
After Rodgers led a second-half rally to forge a 27-27 tie, Ponder uncorked his deepest completion of the season, a 65-yarder to Jarius Wright, followed soon after by a 3-yard pass TD to Michael Jenkins.
Then when Rodgers led another tying drive, Ponder responded with a clutch third-and-11 connection to Jenkins. For 25 yards. In the final 2 minutes. To propel a playoff-clinching field goal drive.
“For myself it was finding that right balance of making plays downfield and checking the ball down,” Ponder said Wednesday. “And not trying to force things that aren’t there. That was learning from those mistakes I had throughout midseason.”
It’s not just that Ponder aided an offensive eruption under obvious pressure. It’s that he had played so confidently over the final four weeks with the offense delivering 21 scoring drives with only two Ponder turnovers mixed in.
From a distressing 6-6 ledge, the Vikings stormed into the postseason.
Said coach Leslie Frazier: “It was so encouraging, just to see at a moment where our team could have gone either way at that 6-6 juncture, for him to step up and really begin to make some crucial plays for us and take more of a reign from a leadership standpoint. It gave me more confidence about the future.”
When will we know?
Of course, until such efforts become way more routine, Ponder will need the Vikings’ internal support as armor against the arrows of criticism continually shot at him.
He was asked Wednesday if it’s frustrating that so much preseason scrutiny comes at him.
“I think it’s the nature of the media,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the nature of the position.”
Ponder continues reminding himself to balance his detailed self-assessments with a view of the bigger picture.
“We’re throwing a lot of stuff into the offense and taking each day on its own,” Ponder said. “And these first few days are a lot of installation. We’re going in with new plays every practice. And we understand it is a process.”