Sunday, September 22, 2013
Another rocky performance for Ponder
By Ben Goessling
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' next game is a home contest in name only. They will face the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday at London's Wembley Stadium, having given up a date at Mall of America Field after going 7-1 there last year. They will try as hard as they can to make it feel like a home game, but with a bipartisan crowd and groups of fans who have no lasting attachment to the team, it certainly won't resemble a normal Sunday in the raucous, rollicking Metrodome.
Then again, if coach Leslie Frazier follows through on what he said Sunday and keeps Christian Ponder as the starting quarterback, the Vikings might be better off with a more tepid fan base, anyway.
The 63,672 in attendance for the Vikings' final home opener at the Metrodome were in full throat on Sunday afternoon, calling for backup quarterback Matt Cassel and booing the Vikings in the third quarter when they left Ponder in the game. Frazier said after the game that Ponder will remain the starting quarterback -- though he couched his support of the third-year starter a little more than he normally does -- and the Vikings had enough issues around Ponder, particularly on their offensive line, that his supporters could point to other problems.
"I've got to go back and look at it, see what's creating the inconsistency, why we're not executing as well as we need to in certain situations," Frazier said. "We'll evaluate it, and make the decision that you have to make. But as we speak, I don't see [a QB change] happening."
But even though Ponder wasn't the only -- or even the biggest -- problem in the Vikings' 31-27 loss to the Browns on Sunday afternoon, he failed again to do what good quarterbacks often can, and rise above mistakes to lift his team to a win. He followed his solid second half in Chicago last week with a productive start to the game on Sunday, but his second-quarter interception led to a Browns touchdown, and Ponder fumbled from the Cleveland 10 on the final play of the first half.
And after halftime, Ponder went 10-for-20 for just 63 yards, missing an open Greg Jennings on a fourth-quarter throw that might have allowed the Vikings to put the Browns away.
"He got off to a good start, a good opening drive," Frazier said. "But you know, you've got to do it for four quarters, and he didn't do it today for four quarters."
One of the more perplexing things about the start of the Vikings' season is how much Ponder's offensive line has struggled in front of him. The group was one of the league's most reliable last season, with all five starters in the lineup for every game of the season. It was expected to be the bedrock of the offense this season after the Vikings resigned Phil Loadholt, but the group has struggled both to open holes for Adrian Peterson and to protect Ponder, who was sacked six times on Sunday.
"As individuals, all we have to judge is ourselves and how we played. That's all you can control," center John Sullivan said. "So I look at myself and I have to do a better job of everything in the game."
Ponder said "it's impossible to not hear" the chants for Cassel, but said there's "no doubt" he'll remain the Vikings' starting quarterback.
"We want to win just as bad as the fans, and as bad as anyone else," Ponder said. "We're more disappointed than they are, and we have to give them something to cheer about."
The quarterback might settle for something closer to a neutral site environment next week, since the fans in his home stadium didn't do much cheering for him on Sunday.