The most glaringly bad performance by Christian Ponder in a season marked by costly mistakes and curious decisions had just concluded, and the skepticism about his viability as Minnesota’s quarterback was as prevalent as ever.
As for Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, well, his faith in Ponder was never clearer.
After Ponder threw two devastating interceptions in the third quarter at Green Bay that day, one in the end zone with Minnesota leading 14-10 and the other at the Packers 13-yard line with the Vikings trailing 20-14, the playoffs appeared improbable. They were 6-6 and facing a difficult four-game segment at the end of the schedule. Ponder’s future as the starter looked tenuous.
So Frazier, anticipating the swirl of speculation and criticism from the analysts and the fans, sought out Ponder in the locker room at Lambeau Field to assure him the team was still behind him.
“I don’t want you to walk in there with any doubt about your future here as our starting quarterback,” Frazier told Ponder before his postgame news conference. “Next ballgame, you’re going to be our starter.”
The Vikings finished with four straight wins to secure a wild-card spot, and though running back Adrian Peterson and the defense had a lot to do with the rally, they wouldn’t have qualified for the postseason without improvement by Ponder. Yes, the Vikings are Peterson’s team, but Ponder is ultimately the one most responsible for their progress.
“Obviously a lot has changed. I think the biggest thing for me was making better decisions,” Ponder said. “Obviously I made some bad decisions in that first game. It’s something that I knew I had to improve upon. I think each week it’s gotten better.”
On Sunday, Ponder matched his career high with three touchdown passes, turning in his fifth turnover-free performance of the year and taking only one sack in the most important NFL game he’s played in. His 65-yard completion to Jarius Wright that set up one of those scores was his longest of the season.
“I don’t think my confidence ever really was shaken or anything. I think it just goes back to obviously understanding what I can and can’t do. I can’t force things that aren’t there,” Ponder said.
Around the league
Charles Woodson, who has missed nine games, is cleared to play again, and the Green Bay Packers are counting on the defensive back to provide a lift in Saturday’s playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. … San Francisco signed kicker Billy Cundiff to compete with struggling veteran David Akers. … The Arizona Cardinals officially have begun their coaching search with a formal interview of defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The team has reached out to Andy Reid, who was fired by the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday, and plan to interview Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.