With everything that happened on Sunday at Mall of America Field during the Vikings season-opening win against the Jaguars – Adrian Peterson’s return and new team rushing record, Blair Walsh’s clutch kicking, implementation of new overtime procedures – there is one important aspect of the Vikings performance that has been overshadowed. And that’s the performance of Vikings QB Christian Ponder.
Ponder’s stat line at the conclusion of the game read: 20 of 27 for 270 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs. It was a solid performance for the second-year passer, especially when you add in how he was able to put the Vikings in position to try a game-saving FG as time expired.
But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine for Ponder. He and the offense got off to a slow start before they put the pedal to the metal in the 2nd half. Ponder’s numbers were pedestrian in the first two quarters, as he went 7 of 11 for 78 yards. The Vikings ran just 10 plays and picked up only one first down in their first three drives, and their fourth drive went for 6 plays and 24 yards before ending in a punt.
After the game, Ponder pointed the finger at himself.
“It didn’t start off that well and a lot of that has to do with me,” Ponder explained. “I have to set the tone for this offense and play with a sense of urgency. And I didn’t. We changed that around going into that last drive of the first half and continued that into the second half.”
Indeed, the Vikings last drive of the 1st half was pivotal. The Vikings defense forced a 3-and-out and a Jaguars punt with 2:40 to play in the 2nd quarter. Ponder and Co. took possession at their own 41 with 2:28 to play, needing to put something on the board after going scoreless up to that point.
“We hadn’t had points all game, and they were up 9-0,” Ponder said. “We knew we had to get points on the board. We went into two-minute offense, and when you do that, things are naturally going to pick up. I think that was a great starting point to set the tone for the second half. I think that definitely changed the momentum.”
Ponder began the drive with an 11-yard completion to Percy Harvin, then Adrian Peterson dashed for an 8-yard gain to the Jaguars 27. Another Ponder completion, this one to Michael Jenkins for 14 yards, put the Vikings in the shadow of the Jaguars goal line. Peterson finished the drive two plays later with a 3-yard TD run, giving the Mall of America Field crowd some optimism and the Vikings some confidence heading into the locker room at halftime.
The Vikings offense hit the ground running in the 2nd half, and Ponder was a big reason for that. He was 13 of 16 for 192 yards in the 2nd half, including 2 for 2 on the drive late in the 4th quarter that set up Blair Walsh for the game-tying 55-yard FG. Ponder found Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and then Kyle Rudolph for 6 more, advancing his team from their own 31 to the Jacksonville 37 in just 10 seconds.
At that moment, it was apparent to Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier that his young quarterback was displaying to everyone the growth and progression he had displayed to teammates and coaches during the offseason program, training camp and the preseason.
“Christian has grown so much and we felt that was true when we had him in the offseason and watching him in the preseason and some of the things we were doing in practice,” Frazier explained. “But you also want to see it in game situations, and I just thought he did a terrific job throughout of managing the game and then making plays for us when we needed some big plays, and none any bigger than that last drive with 20 seconds to go.
“He’s growing up right before our eyes, and we really feel like he’s the guy who can lead us to big places and today was a big step towards seeing that happen.”
Tags: Christian Ponder, Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 74 Comments »