Revisiting Ponder's late-game misfires


EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The day after the Vikings' 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, coach Leslie Frazier still said he saw a chance for the team to put the game away on the first-down pass Christian Ponder threw with 4:29 left in the game. Ponder overshot Greg Jennings, who was in between two defenders down the sideline, but had Jennings caught the ball, he might have scored or set the Vikings up for a touchdown.

"It was there," Frazier said on Monday. "You see Greg. He has a step and there's a chance for a big play. The guy grabs him initially, the back of his jersey and rides him and then gets in front but we were just a hair off on that play. Would've been a huge play. Really would have put a dagger in it for us and got us where we needed to be. Didn't work out for us on that occasion."

Those throws, though, are the ones that often separate elite quarterbacks from the rest of the field, and they're the ones Ponder has yet to make in the NFL. He had similar opportunities in the first two games the Vikings lost on last-minute drives this year, but in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears, he threw a second-down pass to the end zone that tight end Kyle Rudolph could only tip with one hand. And in Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns, Ponder missed three of his last four passes as the Vikings punted after two opportunities to close out the game.

"You think back to some other situations and that determines sometimes how you call it," Frazier said. "You don’t want to do that. You want to stay aggressive. We had a mindset going into that ballgame that we were going to be aggressive in plus territory and we understand how we want to play the four-minute situation. ... We were going to score touchdowns when it was reasonable. In that situation, we knew exactly what they were going to be in on defense, we had the perfect call, we had the perfect formation to identify what they were doing and then it’s just a matter of our being able to execute our assignment."

When Ponder missed the throw, it put the Vikings in a second-and-long situation, effectively taking away their ability to feed Adrian Peterson, who had run for 62 yards and a touchdown on the previous drive. He also had Jennings open on a crossing route on third-and-9, but pulled the ball down to run, gaining four yards before Frazier decided against an initial call to go for it on fourth down and sent the punting unit out on the field.

Ponder, who will start again on Thursday against the Washington Redskins, did some good things on Sunday. He made plays with his feet, ran the Vikings' no-huddle offense well and continued to look comfortable in the shotgun. But he would do well to hit throws like the one to Jennings. Those plays would, at least temporarily, muzzle his critics and reward the faith Frazier continues to show in him.

"We have confidence that Christian can make those plays," Frazier said. "We have confidence that our offensive line can get blocked up and that our receivers can get open. In order for us to one day become a championship team, you have to be able to execute in those situations and we weren’t able to get it done yesterday.”