There were plenty of negatives in Vikings QB Christian Ponder's 13-of-32, two-interception first start against the Packers, but it would be myopic to ignore the positives from the loss. On a team replete with shortcomings, Ponder did what predecessor Donovan McNabb could not: give the Vikings a spark and lead a strong fourth-quarter attack. Whereas McNabb's performance often waned as the game went on, Ponder only got better, rallying from back-to-back interceptions to cut a 16-point lead to six and give the Vikings a chance to beat the undefeated defending world champions.
The PFW Spin
As the Vikings break down the tape this week, they will see some mistakes from Ponder in his first start, even on the positive plays. An underthrown pass on a blown coverage on the first play of the game probably was the difference between Michael Jenkins walking into the end zone and him being tripped up at the 1-yard line.
There was a 5-for-17 passing stretch during which he gummed up the works a bit, forcing the Vikings to lean on a banged-up Adrian Peterson to carry them, and that certainly isn't an awful thing, as Peterson showed.
And Ponder certainly can be criticized for being too aggressive in going after Charles Woodson twice in consecutive series — Woodson has a thing for rookie quarterbacks, also victimizing Cam Newton twice — but what can't be questioned is his toughness and resolve in the face of adversity.
Instead of cowering and playing safely, Ponder went back after Woodson twice more in successive throws, including a decisive TD toss to Michael Jenkins. Ponder's best moves Sunday included finding Jenkins and TE Visanthe Shiancoe repeatedly, because they were the Vikings' only chances once Percy Harvin (rib) left the game.
Credit goes also to the Vikings' coaching staff for doing a lot of good things to help the rookie QB. Moving the pocket, simplifying reads against the confusing looks from defensive coordinator Dom Capers and taking advantage of Ponder's athleticism were all smart plays.
It also would be wrong to call out head coach Leslie Frazier for punting in the fourth quarter, even though Ponder was heating up. You don't turn to a rookie quarterback on fourth down and 10 from his own 36, not when he has misfired on 19 of his 32 passes and there is 2:37 left and you have three timeouts. You just don't.
Punting was the right call, and Frazier would have looked a lot smarter had S Husain Abdullah not whiffed on James Starks on a power sweep near game's end. Trusting the defense was risky against the Packers' four-minute offense, but it was the move Frazier had to make.
Ponder closed well. He was 5-for-6 passing on third downs in the fourth quarter and he gave his team a chance to win. He has plenty of time to clean up the little things as he goes along.
Ask yourself this: Is anyone questioning the move to bench McNabb and start Ponder now? No. All they might be asking on this front would be, "Why not sooner?"