Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder will not play in tonight’s playoff game against the Packers, officially declared inactive due to trouble with his right elbow. Ponder banged the elbow of his throwing arm hard on a defender’s helmet in the first half of last week’s home win over Green Bay and the injury gradually got worse after that game finished.
Ponder was limited in practice this week and was officially listed on the injury report Friday as questionable. The Vikings had hoped he would be able to battle through the pain and even took Ponder to the stadium early Saturday afternoon with fellow quarterback Joe Webb and McLeod Bethel-Thompson to test the elbow out.
Ultimately, it appears, the stiffness and pain in Ponder’s elbow was too much, meaning Webb will be the starter in the Vikings’ first playoff game in nearly three years.
As if anything else matters, the Vikings' other inactives tonight are: Tyrone McKenzie, Stephen Burton, Troy Kropog, D'Aundre Reed, Brandon Burton and George Johnson.
GREEN BAY -- Joe Webb might get a chance to throw some passes for the Vikings after all this season.
Quarterback Christian Ponder was listed on the Vikings injury report as questionable because of an elbow injury, but team officials said all week they were confident Ponder would be ready for tonight's game against the Packers here at Lambeau Field.
The two quarterbacks will work out before the game, and an NFL source said "it's looking more likely" that Webb will start, meaning Ponder's elbow might not be ready.
No decision has been made yet.
With Ponder limited in practice all week, Webb has taken snaps with the offense and shouldn't be terribly uncomfortable if pressed into action.
Webb's only action this season has been a kneeldown in victory formation.
We'll have updates as the game nears.
Quarterback Christian Ponder is listed as questionable for the Vikings-Packers game tomorrow because of his sore right elbow. Ponder had limited participation in practice all week.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield is also questionable because of his broken right hand.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Thursday that he expected both to play.
Tyrone McKenzie, one of the team's top special teams player, is out because of an injured shoulder.
Listed as probable are running back Adrian Peterson (abdomen), safety Harrison Smith (knee), defensive end Brian Robison (shoulder), defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder), cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle), defensive end George Johnson (quadriceps), punter Chris Kluwe (left, or non-kicking, knee) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee).
Update: For the Packers, defensive end Jerel Worthy (knee) and wide reciever Jarrett Boykin (ankle) are out, and running back James Starks (knee) is questionable.
Cornerback Charles Woodson returns from a broken collarbone and is probable, as are wide receiver Jordy Nelson (knee), receiver/kick returner Randall Cobb (ankle) and running back Alex Green (hip).
Out means a player has no chance of playing (unless he's Brett Favre). Questionable is 50 percent chance. Probable is virtual certainty he will play.
Last week, Antoine Winfield wore only a wrap and a protective pad on his fractured right hand. This week, he’ll go with a sturdier soft cast. And that more than anything else is giving Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier optimism that Winfield will be able to play more Saturday night in Green Bay than he did in last weekend’s home win over the Packers.
“I feel better,” Frazier said following Thursday’s practice, the Vikings’ last of the week. “Just to see him move around with that cast, he was actually over there hitting the dummies and doing some things to jar it just to see how it would feel. And he said it felt great. So that was encouraging, very encouraging.”
Winfield played only 18 of 64 defensive snaps last weekend. And the Vikings defense was chewed up after his exit in the second quarter. Even if Winfield can start Saturday night, Frazier has dabbled with contingency plans, one of which would include moving A.J. Jefferson inside as a slot corner and using rookie Josh Robinson outside. Marcus Sherels, who replaced Winfield on Sunday, is also an option in the slot, though it seems clear the Vikings are looking for ways to minimize Sherels’ role on defense.
Winfield will likely be listed as questionable when the Vikings issue their official injury report on Friday. It seems likely that he will start. Keeping that hand protected will be key.
Winfield also noted after Thursday's practice that he would definitely be seeking medicinal help to numb his right hand as much as possible.
In other injury news …
Leslie Frazier was never really considering an outdoor practice Tuesday as his Vikings prepare for Saturday’s trip to Lambeau Field. For one thing, the Vikings’ practice fields at Winter Park remain covered in snow, which would have made the footing too treacherous.
But even if Frazier had even a small thought of heading outdoors, that idea was killed permanently when he arrived at Winter Park on New Year’s morning and felt the bitter chill.
“It was minus-10 this morning,” Frazier said. “Any thoughts I had about us going out there were kind of removed when I got out of my car this morning.”
So the Vikings practiced inside. But to help prepare players for Sunday’s cold in Green Bay, the Vikings opened the giant sliding garage doors on their field house to let the freeze in.
With different rules and regulations in the playoffs, the Vikings didn’t release an injury report Tuesday even after practicing. They will have to release injury updates on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The four players to miss practice entirely were Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Harrison Smith and Tyrone McKenzie.
Winfield’s injury is the most significant. And the Vikings might not know until Saturday now much the veteran cornerback will be able to play if at all. Winfield’s right hand remains significantly swollen after he fractured the second metacarpal in Houston on Dec. 23. Winfield tried to play through the injury against Green Bay last weekend but aggravated things, played only 18 defensive snaps and left the game for good in the second quarter.
Below the surface
McKenzie’s injury has its own significance. The back-up linebacker had his left arm in a sling Tuesday. As a key special teams contributor on coverages, McKenzie’s absence this weekend would be notable. McKenzie was actually given a game ball for his special teams contribution in Week 16 at Houston. He was hurt in Sunday's win over Green Bay but was on the field when Jeremy Ross busted off a 44-yard return at the start of the second quarter. Ross’ burst to the Green Bay 43 marked the first time since Week 5 that the Vikings had allowed a kickoff return past the 25.
The Vikings were also playing Sunday without special teams ace Robert Blanton, a rookie, who was inactive as the team adjusted its roster to have an extra defensive end available in case Brian Robison’s shoulder injury was aggravated.
“We had some moving parts in that ball game on Sunday [on special teams],” Frazier said. “That did affect some of the things we did.”
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