Sunday’s win-and-in, season finale against the Green Bay Packers was a big moment for the Vikings organization. Having won just 9 of their previous 32 games entering the 2012 season, the Vikings won 9 games in 2012 alone and needed a 10th victory in the season’s final week to qualify for the postseason.
They did it. The Vikings registered a thrilling, instant classic 37-34 victory that included a walk-off 29-yard FG from their rookie Pro Bowl kicker – Blair Walsh. The game also included a historic performance from RB Adrian Peterson, as he rushed for 199 yards and a TD on 34 carries. In the effort, Peterson became just the 7th player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards.
In mentioning the individuals who were instrumental in guiding the Vikings to victory, Peterson and Walsh should be near the top of the list. At the top of the list, though, you’ll find QB Christian Ponder. He’s been much-maligned at times in Minnesota, producing uneven results in 25 career starts entering Sunday. He’s had ups and downs. He’s been criticized plenty. Some say he cost the Vikings a victory earlier in the season at Lambeau Field with costly 2nd-half interceptions that spoiled a 210-yard rushing output by Peterson.
But on Sunday, in what was the biggest moment yet in his young career, Ponder gave us his best performance. He was 16 of 28 for 234 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 120.2 passer rating. He took just one sack, had no turnovers, and made clutch throws in crucial moments. On 3rd downs, Ponder was 8 of 11 for 87 yards with 1 TD, no sacks and no INTs. Of the 8 completions on 3rd downs, 6 resulted in 1st downs.
“He made so many big plays at the quarterback position, some of the throws,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s playing at a high, high level at this point. We needed that today against a high powered offense with an excellent quarterback. He did a terrific job. He’s playing very good football at the right time for us.”
The key moment of the game came at the 2-minute warning, and all the pressure was on Ponder. Facing a 3rd and 11 from the Minnesota 27 with 2:00 to play and the game knotted at 34, Ponder dropped back, pump faked, and found WR Michael Jenkins in between defenders for a 25-yard completion. That led to the eventual game-winning FG by Walsh. Earlier in the 4th quarter with the game tied at 27, it was Jenkins who was on the receiving end of a 3-yard TD toss from Ponder after the QB had avoided pressure and scrambled to his left to buy time. That Ponder-to-Jenkins TD play also came on a 3rd down.
“He’s grown a lot,” Jenkins, a 9-year veteran, said in the locker room after the game. “A lot of people outside of this locker room have written him off. That was tough to see him kind of go through that, but he persevered through that. He battled. It was probably his best game today.”
It was definitely his best game. As I wrote in the Monday Morning Mailbag, Sunday was certainly a Top 3 performance for Ponder when you look at the raw numbers. He’s thrown for more yards on seven occasions, but he’s never had a higher single-game passer rating (120.2) and the performance against Green Bay is the 2nd time he’s had 3-plus TD passes in the game. But when you consider the circumstances in concert with the raw numbers, there’s no question that Sunday’s win over Green Bay was the best performance of Ponder’s career. Given what transpired before the Vikings even kicked off, with both Chicago and the NY Giants winning, the Vikings were in a true win-and-in scenario, where there was no way for them to qualify for the postseason with a loss.
This game will go down as one game in his entire body of work as the Vikings evaluate him going into the offseason. But the quarterback position, more than any other, is evaluated with careful consideration to “clutch moments,” and Sunday’s game against Green Bay represented as clutch a moment as Ponder has seen in his career. Ponder played his best game in the biggest moment.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Blair Walsh, Christian Ponder, Leslie Frazier, Michael Jenkins
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