Souhan: Coddling Ponder won't cut it any longer

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2013 - 10:53 AM

There are so many qualities you’d like to see in Christian Ponder, so many things that seem to be missing from the desired profile of a quality NFL quarterback.

Accuracy. Decisiveness. Pocket awareness. Athletic arrogance. And, after particularly ugly losses, anger.

Anger that he cost his team, anger that at times he played as if blindfolded and anesthetized, anger that anyone would dare hint that he lacks the winning quarterback’s essential intangibles.

What you get from Ponder after he plays Marco Polo with his receivers, after he allows an opposing defense to keep 22 eyes focused squarely on Adrian Peterson, is verbal shrugs. What you get from his coach and teammates are platitudes and excuses.

If you hadn’t watched the Vikings’ 34-24 loss to Detroit on Sunday, if you heard the story told only via postgame interviews, you would have thought Ponder played no larger role in the offensive implosion than the long snapper and the quality control coach.

Let’s cut through the enabling fog: Ponder cost the Vikings a potentially important victory Sunday, and he should have taken full blame.

At the helm of an offense featuring the NFL MVP, an excellent offensive line, a Pro Bowl tight end and a dramatically improved receiving corps, Ponder filled the role of neither inspired leader nor adequate facilitator. He didn’t make winning plays, and he didn’t avoid losing plays.

Facing a defense intent on stopping Peterson, he threw three interceptions. One would have resulted in a defensive touchdown if not for a despicable personal foul by the NFL’s dirtiest player, Ndamukong Suh. Ponder was saved from a fourth interception and another touchdown return when Lions defender Bill Bentley dropped a Ponder pass with nothing but fake grass between him and the end zone.

Don’t believe what Ponder’s apologists will tell you about the team sharing blame, and don’t look at the stat sheet, which showed 18 completions on 28 attempts for 236 yards. Perhaps the scariest aspect of Ponder’s performance was not his oh-no-he-didn’t throws. It was that even his completions looked shaky.

Two of Greg Jennings’ three catches came on balls well behind him. Ponder’s longest completion, a 47-yarder to Jerome Simpson, should have been an easy touchdown, but Ponder overthrew him, forcing Simpson to make a remarkable diving catch.

When Simpson beat a defender down the right sideline early in the game, Ponder underthrew him, and Simpson used body position to make another difficult catch. Ponder’s only touchdown came on a beanbag toss that Peterson ran in from the 4.

I admit to being continually conflicted about Ponder. I liked him as a draftee and a promising rookie. I like him as a human. I think he wants to handle every aspect of his job professionally, from being a good teammate to being a compliant interviewee.

He deserves credit for playing well early last season, when he played with remarkable efficiency, and at the end of last season, when he won big games.

So who was this overwhelmed, indecisive amateur who looked lost on the field and sounded like he was reading a script at the podium?

Ponder should realize that he’s not on scholarship anymore. If he continues to play this poorly, he won’t just lose his job, he’ll ruin a season of Peterson’s prime and get his coach fired.

“It wasn’t all Christian,” Frazier said. “We’ve got to play better as a team.”

“We didn’t do the job up front,” Peterson said. “It’s on all of us up front to do a better job.”

“We all have to play better, and move on,” Ponder said.

In a way, the company line is admirable, and sticking to it has worked before. When Ponder cost the Vikings a game in Green Bay last year, Peterson pulled him aside in the locker room, Frazier stuck with him, and Ponder guided them to the playoffs.

At some point, Ponder has to graduate from coddled youth to team leader if he’s going to last. Sunday, he didn’t pass the eyeball test, or the aural examination.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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