Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
As it turns out, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder did very little in practice last week. Some light throwing on the side. Delivered handoffs during team drills. But the deep bruise on Ponder’s right arm caused so much discomfort and stiffness in his triceps and elbow that he was never truly himself.
It all led up to a strange plot twist Saturday evening at Lambeau Field when Ponder was declared inactive for a first-round playoff game against the Packers. He was replaced by Joe Webb, who struggled throughout the Vikings’ 24-10 loss.
On locker clean out day Monday at Winter Park, Ponder removed a protective sleeve from his right arm to reveal the nasty bruise that sidelined him. Here's what that looked like in a photo from the Star Tribune's Shari Gross.
Ponder also expressed disappointment in having his season end in that fashion, on an odd Saturday in which his only throws were some feeble soft tosses in a last ditch effort to test the arm in pre-game warm-ups.
“It was [crazy],” Ponder said. “Obviously it wasn’t as much fun as I wanted it to be. I wanted to be out there. Frustrating day. But out of my control. It’s something that makes me hungry to be able to get back and play in a playoff game next year.”
The move to declare Ponder inactive Saturday snuck up on everybody. Head coach Leslie Frazier told the media early in the week that Ponder was dealing with an elbow injury, a result of having banged his arm on the helmet of Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett during the first half of the Vikings' 37-34 win on Dec. 30.
Even after that hit, however, Ponder played the rest of the game. And he and Frazier downplayed the severity of the injury throughout last week before the quarterback was stamped as “questionable” on the official injury report Friday afternoon.
Ponder’s range of motion in the arm was severely limited, rendering him incapable of making even the simplest and softest of throws with any strength. Hence the Vikings were forced into a late change and the move to Webb. With the offense never really in sync -- Webb hadn't thrown a pass during the regular season -- the Vikings magical 2012 run abruptly ended.
And so now Ponder heads into the offseason with emptiness on not being able to suit up in the postseason.
Yet he also will take with him a final performance (234 yards, three TDs) in the regular season finale against Green Bay that seemed to be evidence of growth and his ability to deliver on a big stage with the stakes high. That effort completed a four-game stretch in which Ponder threw only one interception as the Vikings surged from 6-6 to snatch the NFC’s final wild card berth.
Ponder said he used the final four games as a push to show greater care with the offense, “realizing that I needed to take calculated risks and understanding what risks I should and shouldn’t take and getting a wrap around that.”
He also took great pride in the win over Green Bay in the regular season finale.
“That was one of my best memories I’ll ever have playing this game -- hopefully, not the best one,” he said. “Obviously, I have some games and some years ahead where hopefully, we have a Super Bowl ring on our finger.
As for Ponder’s arm injury, he continues to regain movement and flexibility and will just need time for it to heal completely. Alas, the Vikings’ next meaningful game won’t come until September.
The Vikings haven’t played a playoff game since the NFC Championship loss to New Orleans on Jan. 24, 2010. Only 13 players who participated in that game remain on the active roster. But it’s actually left guard Charlie Johnson who has the most playoff experience of any player on this year’s team.
Johnson will be playing his 11th playoff game Saturday in Green Bay. He went to the playoffs in all five of his seasons in Indianapolis and played in Super Bowls XLI and XLIV with the Colts.
Johnson has played on teams that were favored and expected to reach the Super Bowl. Now he’s enjoying a different path as part of this year’s surprise underdog story.
“It gives you hope for us to win four straight and to get that momentum and then to get into the playoffs,” he said. “Once you get in, anything can happen. It’s been done before. There’s a precedent set for teams like this getting on a roll.”
Johnson also said, unless it’s specifically requested by younger players, he wouldn’t offer up any playoff advice this week.
“I think by doing that you plant a seed in their heads, saying, ‘Well, this is more than a game,’ when it’s not,” Johnson said. “I think if you look at the teams that are successful in the playoffs, they approach the playoffs like they would a Week 6 regular season game. Nothing changes. You can’t go out of what you do.
“But if they ask and say, ‘I want to know what it’s like,’ I will [provide advice].”
Adrian Peterson said the Vikings' 10-point lead wasn't a factor in him leaving last Sunday's game with just under seven minutes left and the Vikings at the Houston 27-yard line. The abdominal injury that has nagged him in recent weeks was, he said, the only reason his day ended early.
"That was the factor, that was the reason I came out," Peterson said. ":I felt like it was best for Toby to go in at that point of time, that he would give us a better opportunity to get it in the end zone. I didn't want to be selfish just because we were down by the end zone and go in there and not be able to go 100 percent. Toby did a good job of executing and finishing that drive."
Gerhart finished the game with eight carries for 31 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown that capped the drive in which Peterson left.
Peterson didn't practice Wednesday because of the adbomen, but said, "it's feeling good." Today's practice starts soon, but he'll be limited at best today.
Asked if the injury will affect him on Sunday, Peterson said, "I don't think so." He's called the injury just normal wear and tear.
Other Peterson highlights from today's press conference with reporters:
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