Craig: Ponder's chance to prove himself sails away

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 23, 2013 - 12:45 PM

Christian Ponder missed a chance to close the game.

The five three-and-outs, the interception, the lost fumble in the red zone, the 11 incompletions on first down, the 4.5-yard average per pass attempt after the opening drive … none of it would have mattered had Christian Ponder simply completed a short pass to an open Greg Jennings on third-and-4 with less than 3½ minutes left and the Vikings leading by three points.

“I missed him,” Ponder said after the Vikings were upset 31-27 at home by the Cleveland Browns. “It was a bad throw. He was open and did a great job on that route and beat man coverage, beat their best corner [Joe Haden]. But we weren’t able to convert.”

And so the Vikings, for the sixth and final time, went three plays and punted, this time from their 20-yard line. And for the second time in two weeks, the defense collapsed on a shortened field at the end of a game in which the Vikings had four takeaways.

“That’s two weeks in a row we’ve had a chance to close it out,” center John Sullivan said. “And that’s two weeks we haven’t come through.”

The week before in Chicago, Ponder had a short pass sail just out of tight end Kyle Rudolph’s reach in the end zone on second-and-goal late in the game. Rudolph was well covered on that play, so Ponder had to be more precise to avoid disaster. Jennings, however, was open and heading past the first-down marker.

“If you want to be a good team, you’ve got to take advantage of that situation, and we didn’t,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “We punt from backed up, they get good field position and go down and score.”

And the Vikings lose again. And Ponder is left talking about a lack of execution and the need to fix it.

“We have to fix it,” Ponder said. “Otherwise, we’re going to be 0-16.”

The offensive line had its second rough outing in three weeks as Ponder was sacked six times and hurried twice. Ponder lost a fumble that kept the Vikings from kicking a 28-yard field goal at the end of the first half. He also tried to force a deep ball through three defenders to Jerome Simpson. One defender tipped the ball and another one intercepted it.

Adrian Peterson also had a quiet day with 88 yards on 25 carries with a long of 9 yards. Ponder actually hurt the Browns more running the ball than Peterson. He was at his decisive best during five carries that netted 46 yards two TDs.

Browns linebacker Craig Robertson seemed to shrug when asked why Ponder hurt them on the ground more than the reigning league MVP did.

“Our goals today were to stop Adrian Peterson,” said Robertson, “and force Christian Ponder to throw the ball.”

Mission accomplished. After completing three of four passes for 52 yards — including completions of 27 and 22 yards — on the opening drive, Ponder completed just 22 of 38 passes for 176 yards with no completion longer than 15.

Frazier, however, said he’s still committed to Ponder, saying “He’s our quarterback.” Ponder said he has “no doubt” that’s true. When Frazier was asked if that could change after studying game film, he said, “You evaluate and make the decisions you have to make, but as we speak, I don’t see that happening.”

Some fans are more than ready. After a short completion to Peterson far short of the first-down marker led to another three-and-out in the third quarter, fans started chanting “Let’s Go, Cassel!”

“I think it’s impossible to not hear them,” Ponder said. “But we want to win just as bad as the fans and as bad as anyone else. We’re more disappointed than they are.”

Again, nothing else would have mattered had a simple short pass to Jennings been completed and the Vikings had held possession.

“We’ll have to see [what happened] on film,” Ponder said. “I don’t know. I kind of changed my throwing angle a little bit and I just missed him. That’s typically a ball I can complete 99 out of 100 times. Unfortunately, that was the one miss.”

Unfortunately for the Vikings, that’s becoming an all-too-familiar answer.

 

Mark Craig • mark.craig@startribune.com

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Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 17 2nd Qtr 10:18
Dallas 7
Seattle 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Nashville
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 64 2nd Half 2:30
Georgetown 59
FIU 51 2nd Half 2:00
USC Upstate 65
Long Island 36 2nd Half 11:16
Stony Brook 48
San Diego 31 2nd Half
Xavier 39
Illinois 25 1st Half 9:53
Indiana State 8
Western Ky 5:00 PM
Saint Josephs
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Wright State
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North Carolina
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Washington
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UC Santa Barbara
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South Alabama
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(12) Arizona
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(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
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Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
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(24) Louisville
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(23) Clemson
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(7) Ohio State
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Northwestern
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(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
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Hartford 43 FINAL
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Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
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Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 23 2nd Half 12:34
(1) South Carolina 42
BYU 5:00 PM
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