Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Christian Ponder will start vs. Bears
ESPN.com news services
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has passed all the necessary concussion tests and is ready to come back for more against Chicago on Sunday.
Ponder saw a neurologist on Tuesday and was cleared to play, so he will start in the season finale.
He took quite a beating last weekend against the Washington Redskins, who knocked him out of the game in the third quarter with a concussion.
"I guess I actually scored higher on my baseline tests so maybe I got some sense knocked into me," Ponder deadpanned on Wednesday after returning to practice.
All joking aside, the game against the Bears will be an important one for the rookie, whose performance has leveled off in recent weeks after a promising beginning as the Vikings starter. The game against the Redskins was tied at 10 when linebacker London Fletcher knocked Ponder out with a crunching hit.
It's the second concussion Ponder has had in his football career, he said.
Meanwhile, cornerback Asher Allen participated fully in practice Wednesday after passing his concussion testing.
Concussions have hit the Vikings hard this year. Left guard Steve Hutchinson was put on injured reserve this week after his head injury kept him out against the Redskins. Joe Berger started in his place. Starting strong safety Husain Abdullah's season ended three weeks ago when he went on injured reserve with a concussion.
Starting right guard Anthony Herrera didn't practice Wednesday because of a lower-back injury, but Frazier said he's hopeful Herrera will play Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
Joe Webb played superbly against the Redskins in Ponder's place, completing 4 of 5 passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 34 yards and another score to lead the Vikings to just their third victory of the season.
It was the second time in the last three weeks that Webb, a sixth-round draft pick in his second season, has come in and played better than Ponder, the No. 12 overall pick in April's draft. Webb replaced an ineffective Ponder in the second half against Detroit on Dec. 11 and scored on a 65-yard run and threw another TD pass to rally the Vikings from a 21-0 deficit. The comeback fell short when he fumbled a snap just a few yards from the end zone, but he has started to gain consideration that he is more than just a backup quarterback and occasional receiver.
"Each time Joe has gotten in the ball game, he's really given us a spark and really got some things going," coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. "It's something that we'll have to talk about and discuss when this season is over and we're going to try and get him more snaps in the Chicago game if we can."
By Wednesday, with Ponder in the clear, Frazier was more definitive that the rookie remains atop the depth chart. He said he saw progress on Sunday before Ponder was injured.
"I think you always want to do whatever is best for your team and whatever gives your team the best chance to win," Frazier said. "Right now, Christian being our starting quarterback, that's our belief."
Webb's poise, athleticism and performance has impressed Ponder, who knows that he has to keep improving to hold on to his starting spot.
"There's always pressure to perform. This is the NFL and you always have to perform otherwise your job is going to be taken away," he said. "But I think it's a positive thing. Whenever there's competition I think you're always going to get better. Obviously Joe is a heck of a player and has done a great job. That's going to motivate me more to make my job secure and try to play better."
Ponder took two nasty hits against the Redskins, including a 15-yard penalty from safety Reed Doughty for hitting Ponder while he was sliding. The helmet-to-helmet contact left quite a mark.
"My modeling career's out the window," Ponder quipped. "I got busted up. I was bleeding everywhere. ... Fun times."
Sunday marks the final chance this season for Ponder to build some momentum going into the offseason against the Bears 28th-ranked passing defense.
"Especially for me, personally, I want to finish strong and have some momentum going into the offseason," Ponder said. "Looking back on the games I've played in, I've got a lot of film to show that I have a lot to work on and get better at. It'd be great to finish on a positive note."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.