Turns out, Ponder's benching as Vikings starter was temporary

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 21, 2013 - 12:31 AM

Frazier will start the struggling QB against Green Bay.

Well, well, well. Look who’s still standing behind center.

In another surprising twist to what has been a futile season- long fumble to find consistently good quarterback play, the Vikings did, well, nothing.

Coach Leslie Frazier announced Wednesday that Christian Ponder would keep the starting job despite three more turnovers, a 1-6 record and a fourth-quarter benching at Seattle on Sunday. Then, obviously sensing disbelief among reporters expecting the return of Josh Freeman to finish out a lost season, Frazier pre-empted the day’s most obvious sports question in the Twin Cities by asking it himself.

“I’m sure the follow-up questions will be, ‘Why?’ ” Frazier said.

Well, now that you mention it …

“Like every decision, you try to make a decision based on who you think gives you the best chance to succeed,” Frazier said. “In our case, we think that’s Christian at this point.”

So what does that say about Freeman? Has the former Buccaneers first-round draft pick met the coach’s expectations since General Manager Rick Spielman signed him Oct. 6?

“He has,” Frazier said. “In some ways, based on the information that we received, he’s exceeded those. He’s been all-in, he’s been a professional in everything we’ve asked him to do. I like the way he handles himself in the pocket, in the meetings in the locker room. Much better than some things that we had heard.”

But if that’s the case, why not see what he can do after having spent the past six weeks learning the offense? After all, this is the same guy Frazier started against the Giants after only four days of practice with the first team.

Yeah, that game was a Monday Night Football fiasco featuring Freeman’s 37.7 completion percentage. But, hey, the Vikings are 2-8 and coming off yet another low point in Ponder’s tumultuous three-year career.

Considering Freeman cost the Vikings $2 million for 12 games and he’s not under contract beyond this season, not playing him at this point naturally could lead one to believe that Frazier doesn’t think signing him was the right move.

“I do,” Frazier insisted. “When you look at where we were at the time and what we were trying to accomplish and what we were facing, to not take advantage of that opportunity to bring him in and be able to be around him, take a look at him, see if he could help our club. I think we’d be kicking ourselves just wondering. We still have other games to play. There still may be other opportunities for him. No regrets about bringing him in.”

Frazier said Sunday’s opponent also played a role in Wednesday’s decision.

“[Ponder] has had some success against Green Bay’s defense,” Frazier said. “He’s familiar with their team and their personnel. He’s played at Lambeau before.”

Ponder has played well against the Packers in the past two meetings at Mall of America Field. Both were turnover-free, including last year’s 37-34 playoff-clinching victory in Week 17. But as far as Lambeau Field, Ponder is 0-2 with a 47.5 completion percentage, one touchdown pass and three interceptions.

Freeman played at Lambeau once with Tampa Bay in 2011. He lost 35-26 while completing 73.7 percent of his passes (28 of 38) for 342 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

Matt Cassel likely will back up Ponder, Frazier said. As for Freeman, Frazier said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll be active for only the third time in seven games.

If Freeman is upset in any way about not playing, he’s turning in a Tom Hanks-like performance in acting completely unruffled by it all.

“I’m just working,” Freeman said. “It’s been great. I’ve just been focusing on football. I’ve had a chance to really [focus]. There are no distractions, no anything. You just get to sit and focus. I get my beats bumping in the QB room, just sitting there and jamming and watch tape and take notes. It’s great.”

Ponder, meanwhile, said he wasn’t surprised to learn he was going to make his fifth consecutive start. Of course, at this point, what could possibly surprise a guy who has spent the past 11 weeks breaking a rib, separating a shoulder, being benched twice and brought back twice?

Sunday was Ponder’s first in-game benching of the season. After a 122.0 first-half passer rating, he collapsed in the second half. He threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions, including a pick-six that earned him a seat.

“Just bad decisions,” said Ponder, who has 13 turnovers this season. “Just trying to make plays towards the end. We were down, trying to have that fourth-quarter comeback and just forced some things that weren’t there. … Now, it’s time to forget it and move forward, and we’ve done that.”

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