CHICAGO -- At halftime of the game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, anyone who wanted the Minnesota Vikings to make a change at quarterback could have made a strong case. Christian Ponder was flailing again -- having gone 6-for-14 and thrown a heinous interception that was returned for a touchdown -- and the Vikings looked headed to an 0-2 record in large part because of their quarterback.
They are still 0-2, but the way Ponder played in the second half might have lifted the burden off his shoulders ever so slightly. He went 10-for-16 for 146 yards, making a number of critical throws in directing three scoring drives, and impressed both Vikings and Bears players with his willingness to take a few big shots on run plays.
"My respect has gone up tremendously for Ponder," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. "He did some great things out there. He made some plays with his feet."
In some ways, Ponder seems to have a knack for turning in these kinds of performances when he's most in need of a statement to keep his job. His best work in 2012 came in the final four games of the season, with criticism mounting after Ponder threw two red-zone interceptions in a key loss at Lambeau Field. The Vikings went 4-0 in those last four games, and Ponder posted his first-, fifth- and third-best QBR numbers of the season in the final three.
He looked more assertive in the second half on Sunday, connecting with Greg Jennings on a 22-yard throw in front of two defenders on the Vikings' final drive. But there's no getting around the interception he threw in the first half. Ponder didn't put enough zip on the ball on an out route to Jerome Simpson, and unlike last week, when Bill Bentley dropped a would-be interception that could've gone for a touchdown, Tim Jennings stepped in front of Simpson and raced 44 yards for a score. It was the kind of throw that called Ponder's arm strength into question, and he looked in Simpson's direction long enough that it was obvious where he was going with the ball.
"Terrible play," Ponder said of the throw. "Obviously, if we take away seven points, it's a different ballgame for them and for us. So I understand that I have to play better. I have to play four quarters of football and limit those mistakes."
It'd be a lot easier to ascertain his future with the Vikings if he were able to do that more consistently. For now, though, Vikings fans will have to settle for another glimmer of hope after an ugly first half from the quarterback.