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Ponders To Host Charity Celebrity Wiffleball Tournament

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 3, 2013 – 6:03 am

Arizona is a hotbed for baseball this time of year with several MLB teams holding their spring training workouts in the sun-splashed, winter getaway state. While spring training will have long ended and baseball’s regular season will be in full swing, the sport of baseball (in an alternative form) will still be alive in the Scottsdale area thanks to Christian and Samantha Ponder.

The newly-wed couple will host the The M.A.D. Wiffleball Classic, a charity celebrity wiffleball tournament that will benefit M.A.D. (Make A Difference) Ministries.

With Samantha (Steele) Ponder being joined by the Vikings QB as host, the inaugural M.A.D. Wiffleball Classic will be held on Sunday, April 14, at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona. The event, which begins at 12:30 p.m. and concludes at 4:00 p.m., will consist of 24 teams of seven players, with celebrity players on each team. In addition to fielding the presenting Ponder Team, Christian and Samantha will be joined by a long list of family and celebrity friends, athletes, national broadcasters and entertainers.

So for any Minnesota snowbirds who’ve retreated to the Arizona desert or for any Vikings fans living in the area, it might be worth some time and effort to checkout this event. There is no admission fee to be a spectator, although donations will be accepted.  A Kids’ Zone play area and food and drinks will be available for purchase.

Click here for more information on the event.

M.A.D Ministries is a faith-based 501-C3 organization, founded by Samantha Ponder’s mother and father, Cindi and Jerry Steele. The volunteer-driven program provides college scholarships, housing, education, spiritual guidance and athletic training in inner city Phoenix, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Israel and soon, Minneapolis.

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Vikings Free Agency: What’s Happened? What’s Next?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 18, 2013 – 5:18 am

Rick Spielman may prefer to and excel at building his team through the draft. But the Vikings GM has illustrated this year that he also views free agency as an important vehicle to improving his roster. We’re not even a week into the New League Year, and the Vikings have already been one of the NFL’s most active teams when it comes to shuffling the roster and making improvements.

Here’s a quick look at what the Vikings have done so far, and what might be next…

Got Jennings? Vikings do
The Vikings finished the 2012 regular season with the 31st-ranked passing offense, so during the offseason you can be sure that adding talented pass-catchers will be atop the priority list. To that end, the Vikings have already taken a huge step forward by signing WR Greg Jennings. After being a thorn in the Vikings side for the past 7 seasons, Jennings will now be a helping hand to Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and QB Christian Ponder. The signing of Jennings was met with wild excitement from a Vikings fan base that has watched the former Packers pass-catcher torch them for 63 receptions and 10 TDs in 15 games vs. the Purple.

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Loadholt, other UFAs re-signed
Spielman is asked every year what his priority will be in free agency. And every year he responds by saying that re-signing his own free agents is atop his wish list. Early in this year’s free agency, Spielman attacked that wish list. The focal point of that effort was re-signing RT Phil Loadholt, and the Vikings got the job done. Aside from Loadholt, the Vikings were also able to reach agreements with 5 of their other 6 unrestricted free agents (UFAs), including: OL Joe Berger, Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, S Jamarca Sanford and WR Jerome Simpson.

Harvin traded
In what may go down as one of this year’s more notable moves across the NFL, the Vikings traded WR Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, and for doing so received three draft picks – a 1st-rounder (#25) and 7th-rounder this year, and a 3rd-rounder next year. The trade gives the Vikings 11 selections in this year’s draft, including 6 in the first 4 rounds. If the Vikings use both 1st-rounders next month, it will mark the second consecutive year they’ll net a pair of 1st-round picks in a draft. That’s a good way to improve the talent level on your roster.

Winfield cut
In a move that is a great illustration of the type of difficult decisions NFL franchises have to make each year, the Vikings released CB Antoine Winfield. At first blush it seems like a startling move, but given Winfield’s salary and given some of the team’s other priorities, it was a decision that was in the best interests of the franchise. It may have set the stage for the Loadholt re-signing and/or the Vikings ability to go out and get Jennings to help the passing game. Spielman did say that the team is open to Winfield returning at some point this offseason.

Calling for backup – Cassel signed
On the same day the Vikings made a big splash in signing Jennings, they also secured another QB to add to the mix behind starter Christian Ponder. The Kansas City Chiefs released Matt Cassel, and the Vikings immediately swooped in to pick him up. Cassel is an experienced passer in the NFL (62 starts) who was Tom Brady’s backup in New England when the Patriots went 16-0 and advanced to the Super Bowl in 2007. Also, when asked to play, Cassel has responded. He guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record after Brady went down with a knee injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season and he was also a Pro Bowler as the Chiefs starter in 2010, passing for 27 TDs and authoring a passer rating of 93.0.

Misc.
In other developments, the Vikings tendered restricted free agent (RFA) CB AJ Jefferson, so he is set to return for 2013. WR Michael Jenkins was cut and earlier in February the Vikings signed former CFL standout CB Roderick Williams.

What’s next?
– The only UFA the Vikings weren’t able to re-sign was middle LB Jasper Brinkley, who has subsequently signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings could look to free agency to fill that spot, they could wait until the draft to find a middle LB, they could rely on Audie Cole to win that job, or they could enact one or more of those possibilities in combination.
– Looking at the roster right now compared to the roster at this time of the year in 2012, the Vikings are at or above capacity at most spots on the roster. There are two exceptions: offensive tackle and running back. Last year at this time, the Vikings had 6 running backs and right now they have 5. Last year at this time the Vikings had 5 offensive tackles and this year they have 4. Of course the Vikings could wait until the draft to fill the voids in each spot, they could find a free agent on the open market, or they could do both.


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Notes And Quotes From Frazier’s End-Of-Season Press Conference

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 8, 2013 – 1:43 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier held his annual end-of-season press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Frazier meets with reporters multiple times per week during the regular season, but Tuesday’s press conference represents the last of these regular meetings of the 2012 season. Frazier will, of course, speak with reporters during the offseason, but this is the last extensive question-and-answer session he’ll have until most likely the Scouting Combine in late February.

Here are several notes and quotes from Frazier’s end-of-season press conference…

Proud of his team
The Vikings fell short of their ultimate team goal – winning the Super Bowl. But they accomplished many other goals throughout the 2012 regular season, including collecting enough wins to earn the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2009. For that, and for other unstated reasons, Frazier said he was proud of this year’s team.

“I’m very, very proud of our football team and what they accomplished this season,” Frazier said. “Our guys worked extremely hard going all the way back to April 23 when they came back into the building to really set a foundation for this 2012 season. Because of their hard work, we were able to secure a playoff berth. The foundation has been set for our team, without question.

“Our core identities showed up. The traits that we talked about throughout the year…being a tough, smart, disciplined football team. It was exemplified through this group of young men.”

Developing a young roster
I didn’t pay much attention to this aspect of the team until Frazier referenced it during his press conference, but 22 of the 53 players currently on the Vikings roster are listed as being in their 1st or 2nd season. It’s impressive that this team played so well so late in the season and qualified for the postseason with so many young players and so many young players at important positions.

Frazier credited his coaching staff for the work they did in developing young players and he also expressed gratitude to his veteran players for their leadership roles as well.

Frazier also said he didn’t anticipate changes to his coaching staff, barring any promotions some of them may receive.

Dome-field advantage is back
Frazier has said many times in the past that he understands how difficult an environment Mall of America Field can be for opposing teams. He mentioned it once again during Tuesday’s press conference, expressing appreciation for the support of Vikings fans and for the noise the crowd creates in the Vikings home stadium.

“I think for any team that comes to Mall of America Field, our goal going into the season, we wanted to make it extremely difficult for anybody to think that they could come here and win. Our guys, they got that done. To go 7-1 at home, with the support we got from our fans, that was a big deal for our success during the season.”

Injury report
Frazier listed DE Jared Allen (shoulder) and P Chris Kluwe (left knee) as players who will likely undergo surgeries for ailments. He also listed LB Tyrone McKenzie (shoulder), RB Adrian Peterson (core muscle), QB Christian Ponder (triceps) and CB Antoine Winfield (hand) as players also dealing with injuries, but he didn’t indicate surgery would be needed for any of those players. Overall, none of the injuries should impact any of those players’ ability to participate minicamps, training camp or the 2013 regular season, according to Frazier.

Ponder is the Vikings starter going forward
Frazier was asked a series of questions about the team’s quarterback situation. He was unequivocal in saying that Ponder would be the team’s starter going into the offseason. He was vaguer about the depth chart after Ponder, saying Joe Webb would compete for the backup job behind Ponder and also mentioning McLeod Bethel-Thompson as someone who was involved in the team’s plans. Beyond that, Frazier wisely pointed out that it’s hard to prognosticate what will happen at that position – or any position – at this point in the offseason.

Futures for Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield
Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield have been productive players for the Vikings for many seasons, and both were vital components to the defensive effort in 2012. But both guys are also quite long in the tooth, with Williams having completed his 10th season and Winfield having completed his 14th. As it stands right now, though, it sounds like Frazier would love to have both guys return for the 2013 season.

“The intangible in this is a big deal when you’re trying to get the locker room the way you want it,” Frazier explained. “And both Antoine and Kevin are guys who have achieved a lot in our League, a lot of success. So to have star players with the demeanor and leadership qualities that they both possess, helped our football team in 2012, there’s no question about it.

“Would love to have those guys on our team going forward. That’s something we’re going to talk about when we have our personnel meetings with (General Manager) Rick (Spielman) and our personnel department. Just talk about their fit going forward. But from my vantage point, very appreciative of the leadership they provided this season, what they’ve meant in my time here in Minnesota, and I want them to remain Minnesota Vikings. They are great, great players and great people as well.”


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Highlights From Move-Out Day At Winter Park

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 8, 2013 – 8:50 am

Move-out day in the Vikings locker room at Winter Park is a bitter-sweet experience. It typically follows a disappointing conclusion to the season because only one team each year in the NFL finishes the season having accomplished their ultimate goal. Unfortunately, this year the Vikings will not be that team.

But move-out day also represents a time for players to get away, spend time with family and loved ones, and recharge their batteries for the offseason program and for the upcoming season.

On their way out the door, several Vikings players took a few moments to chat with reporters about what transpired this season and what the future might hold for this team in 2013 and beyond. Here are a few highlights from a few of the guys…

Jared Allen
On what Adrian Peterson meant to the Vikings: “What Adrian did this year, I mean it’s inspiring. Not even just on a football level, just on a level of commitment. I think he’s a true example of never letting someone put limitations on you. So many people said he couldn’t do it, and he proved them wrong. It’s just like that in life. You can’t let people put limitations on what you want to do and what you want to achieve. And for him to be a walking testament to that is awesome. For that, it was an inspiring season from him.”

A Rookie Kicker?: “Blair had an unbelievable season. I’ll be the first one to say, you get a rookie kicker and you’re like ‘Ah crap, here we go. We let one of the best in the League go in Longwell, and how’s this guy gonna fit? Is he going to choke the very first opportunity he has to make a pressure kick?’ You know what, he was incredible.”

Adrian Peterson
No wow factor: “No, I didn’t at all. I didn’t wow myself. This is what I expected. I know that sounds nonchalant, like ‘Oh, I’m sure you did.’ But I did. That’s why I’m able to take things as it is. But I feel like there’s room for me to get better, and I look forward to doing that.”

Standout moment of 2012: “Just getting back to practicing with the guys. That was the best feeling. To be kind of bummed out once I actually got back to training camp and found out they put me on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, I was kind of bummed out. But once I got back on the field with the guys and was able to participate, that felt good. There was nothing like it. And just coming back in September for that first game in the dome against the Jaguars, that was a defining moment for me. That felt good.”

Who should be named NFL Coach of the Year?: “Leslie Frazier, without a doubt. He’s a great guy, he’s helped me on and off the field. He’s demeanor, spiritual faith, just the man that he is. He radiates positive energy…you can’t help but feed off of him. He has really been a big part of my development, not only as a football player but as a human being. He’s very inspirational.”

Christian Ponder
What did you learn in 2012?: “That I can do the things to help this team be in a position to be successful. And not just me, but this whole team can handle the pressure of what it takes to get to a playoff berth. We knew that if we lost (vs. Green Bay in Week 17) we wouldn’t make it. So just to handle that pressure as a whole team, especially with how young we are, I think that showed a lot. I need to play at that level consistently for sixteen games. I’ll learn from that, and use what I did in those games to work on next year.”

Anticipating improvement: “We were able to get into the playoffs, but next year I expect to, I made a pretty good leap from first year to second year, I expect an even greater leap from the second year to the third year.”

John Sullivan
Success begins at the top: “Our GM (Rick Spielman) has done a great job. Rick’s done a great job with his vision. Building a young roster, guys who are hungry and want to work hard. And having good veteran leadership. I think we’re definitely a team on the upswing. Obviously we’re still disappointed, the loss (to Green Bay) is pretty fresh. We didn’t accomplish our ultimate goals, but we made huge strides, and as long as we go about our business the right way this offseason, rest up right now while it’s time to do that, get healthy and come back ready to work once the offseason program starts, we’re definitely a team on the upswing.”

Harrison Smith
What did you like about being in the NFL?: “I just like the chemistry of the team. Every guy on the team is a guy that you want to play with, and guys that you have fun playing with and can count on. It seems like with the guys we have here, the leadership we have with the coaches, the front office, things are going in the right direction.”


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Vikings Season Ends With 24-10 Playoff Loss At Lambeau

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 6, 2013 – 2:33 am

The Vikings did a lot of things right while winning their final four games of the regular season to advance to the postseason. But they ran out of magic on Saturday night at Lambeau Field, falling to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 24-10 while playing without their starting QB.

Christian Ponder injured his arm in last week’s win over the Packers and was unable to play Saturday night. Joe Webb started in place of Ponder, but he and the offense were unable to muster any momentum until it was too late. Webb opened the game nicely, driving the Vikings 53 yards in 10 plays to take an early 3-0 lead. From that point on, though, the offense struggled to stay on the field.  The following four drives all ended in punts for the Vikings, and at halftime they had just 97 net yards and were 2 of 8 on 3rd downs.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, was his usual self and paced his team to the victory, the first home postseason win of his career. Rodgers was 23 of 33 for 274 yards with 1 TD on the night, seemingly always finding the open receiver at the biggest moments and always staying away from the back-breaking mistake.

It was the Vikings who made the mistakes. Green Bay’s first TD of the game came on a drive that was kept alive by a 3rd-down offsides penalty against the Vikings. Then Green Bay’s second TD of the game came one play after the Packers were awarded a 1st down via penalty on a FG attempt because the Vikings were flagged for having 12 men on the field. On top of those two TD-yielding mistakes, the Vikings also turned the ball over three times and forced zero turnovers of Green Bay.

After the Vikings took their early 3-0 lead, both teams exchanged punts. That’s when the offsides penalty against the Vikings led to Green Bay’s first score, an 8-yard TD run by RB DuJuan Harris that capped an 11-play, 82-yard drive. The teams traded possessions after that, and eventually Green Bay kicked a 20-yard FG after a stout goal line stand by the Vikings defense. Green Bay led 10-3 at that point, but they extended their lead to 17-3 thanks to a late 1st-half TD run by FB Jon Kuhn.

Green Bay opened the 2nd half with the ball and bookended their TD late in the 1st half with another TD early in the 2nd half, this one a TD reception for Kuhn from 9 yards out to make the score Green Bay 24, Minnesota 3. That’s all the scoring Green Bay would generate, but that’s all the scoring Green Bay would need. The Vikings turned the ball over on their next two possessions – a Webb fumble and then a Webb INT – and then a muffed punt by Marcus Sherels at the start of the 4th quarter only made matters worse.

The Vikings eventually got on the board with a TD when Webb found a wide open Michael Jenkins along the right sideline for a 50-yard score. A failed onsides kick gave Green Bay possession at their 20 and they were able to run all but 19 seconds off the clock from there.

Adrian Peterson finished the game with 99 yards on 22 carries, modest numbers for a runner that racked up 409 yards rushing against the Packers in 2 regular season games this season.

The loss ends what was a successful season for the Vikings. They were a 3-win team just a season ago, and their jump up to 10 wins this season marks the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history. There is a lot upon which this young Vikings team can build going into 2013, and that process will commence almost immediately at Winter Park now that their postseason run has concluded.


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Ponder Produces Best Game In Biggest Moment

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 31, 2012 – 7:36 am

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.

 

 


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Vikings Power Past Packers To Playoffs With 37-34 Win

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 30, 2012 – 8:29 pm

Game Highlights >>
Box Score >>
Game Photos >>
Postgame Pressers (Frazier / Ponder / Peterson) >>

A Vikings team that’s proven resilient throughout the 2012 regular season needed every ounce of it they had left to qualify for the postseason. When all was said and done, the Vikings defeated a high-powered Green Bay Packers team that showed no quit themselves by a count of 37-34 in front of a frenzied Mall of America Field Crowd on Sunday.

“Just a great job by our football team,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said moments after the game. “I’m so proud of our guys. A complete team effort all the way across against a very good football team. For our guys to be as resilient as they were throughout this ballgame…our fans were terrific throughout this game. It’s the first time in a long time I felt like, playing against Green Bay and being at home, we truly had home-field advantage because our fans were loud, they made it hard for their team to really function at times, and we needed that. I’m very, very grateful to our fans that really had an impact on this ballgame at Mall of America Field.”

There’s no question the Vikings heart and their home crowd’s noise made a difference in Sunday’s outcome. But the Vikings also needed firepower to get the job done, and that came from the arm of QB Christian Ponder, the legs of RB Adrian Peterson and the right foot of rookie Pro Bowl K Blair Walsh. Ponder, playing in the biggest game of his young career, came up big by completing 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards with 3 TDs and no INTs – good for a passer rating of 120.2.

“He’s playing at a high, high level at this point,” Frazier said. “And we needed that today going 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.”

As for Peterson, he’s been the heart and soul of the Vikings all season, and was in Sunday’s win as well. The best RB in the NFL carried the ball 34 times and continuously pounded a game Packers defense. He finished with 199 yards rushing and 1 TD, while also adding a receiving TD to his box score. Peterson became just the 7th player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season and he came up 9 yards short of breaking the NFL single-season rushing mark.

Defensively, the Vikings had a hard time containing Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s explosive passing game. Rodgers finished going 28 of 40 for 365 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 131.8 passer rating. But there were moments when the Vikings defense combined with a raucous Mall of America Field crowd to come up big. Green Bay was forced to punt after their first three possessions, and that allowed the Vikings to build up a 13-0 lead.

On top of that, Rodgers was pressured for much of the day. The Vikings registered 5 sacks of Rodgers, with 3.0 of them coming from Everson Griffen and 1.0 each coming from Jared Allen and Brian Robison. It was Robison who sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble in the 3rd quarter that led to a TD pass from Ponder to Peterson and a 27-17 lead. LB Erin Henderson led the Vikings in tackles with 7 and Kevin Williams had a big pass defensed early in the game on a 3rd down.

The most important sequence of the game came at the end, following a cold-blooded offensive series by Rodgers and the Packers that resulted in a 2-yard TD toss to WR Jordy Nelson and a tied game at 34 with 2:54 to play. Marcus Sherels returned the ensuing kickoff 29 yards to the Minnesota 28, setting up Ponder and Co. with a 1st and 10 and an opportunity to march for a game-winning score.

And that’s exactly what happened, thanks in large part to a crucial 3rd-down throw by Ponder. After bouncing a pass incomplete to Peterson on 1st down and then Peterson losing a yard on a 2nd-down carry, the Vikings faced a 3rd and 11 at the 2-minute warning. The worst-case scenario for the Vikings was an incomplete pass that forced them to punt the ball to Rodgers, who could put together a game-winning drive of his own. Rodgers never got that chance, though, and it’s because of a perfectly-placed pass by Ponder to WR Michael Jenkins down the left sideline that yielded 25 yards, a 1st down, and hope within the stadium.

From that point on, the Vikings wisely rode the legs of Peterson, giving it to him 4 times and watching him rip off 37 yards to put the Vikings on the Green Bay 11. Walsh, who had already hit from 54 and 37 earlier in the game, handled things from there, converting a 29-yard game-winner as time expired to give the Vikings their 37th point, their 10th win, and their first trip to the playoffs since 2009.

Sunday’s win and the subsequent postseason berth is a remarkable accomplishment for a team coming off a 3-13 season a year ago. This is a team that, prior to the season starting, many thought would be an afterthought by this time. But these Vikings are anything but an afterthought at the moment.

They’re a playoff team.


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Ponder’s Play Improving As Rematch With Packers Looms

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 26, 2012 – 4:01 pm

The flight to and from Green Bay is the shortest trip of every season for the Vikings. But, given how things unfolded in Week 13, you wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s trip home from Green Bay felt like the longest of the season for Christian Ponder and the Vikings.

The Vikings had their way with Green Bay’s defense as Adrian Peterson pranced around Lambeau Field to the tune of 210 yards through three quarters. The Vikings defense was playing well, too, holding Green Bay’s high-powered offense to just 10 points through halftime and much of the 3rd quarter.

But it was a costly interception thrown by Ponder early in the 3rd quarter that turned out to be the tipping point. Peterson ripped off a 48-yard run on the first play of the 2nd half, setting up the Vikings with a 1st and 10 from the Green Bay 12. The Vikings were poised to go up 21-10 early in the 2nd half, and given the way the Vikings were running the ball and playing defense, that lead would likely have been insurmountable for the Packers.

Two plays after the 48-yard Peterson run, though, Ponder threw an interception that served as a turning point for the game. Rather than being up 21-10, the Vikings lead was cut from 14-10 to 14-13, and Green Bay eventually pulled away for a 23-14 win.

The good news, though, is that Ponder’s play has steadily improved since that game. The Vikings haven’t lost since, and Ponder has been an important part of each win. Against Chicago the next week, he converted several critical 3rd-down throws and in wins over the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans Ponder was able to capitalize on the opposing defense’s commitment to stopping Peterson.

“A lot of it has to do with Christian just growing as a quarterback,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday. “He’s gone through some challenges over the course of this season, and he responded extremely well over the last few weeks.

“It was a tough day in a lot of ways in our first game against Green Bay. He bounced back from that with a very efficient game against Chicago, and he’s continued that progression right on through. We worked on some things from that Green Bay game that we wanted to improve on, and we’ve seen some improvement in his play.”

Frazier didn’t stop there in analyzing why Ponder has improved over the last three weeks. He also credited the guys playing around Ponder for their improved play as well.

“It’s just a combination of what our coaches are doing with him and what he’s doing,” Frazier said. “Also, the guys around him. It’s a collective effort. We’ve got a lot of other guys…our receivers are doing a better job in some of the things they’re doing. Christian obviously is doing a better job. Our pass pro (protection) is a little bit better. And what we’re doing schematically has helped us as well.”

Asked if Sunday’s rematch against the Packers would be important in determining where Ponder stands in the organization as the quarterback of the future, Frazier deflected the matter and instead turned the focus to the current team and its objectives.

“The best thing he can do is a lead us to a win,” Frazier said. “That would be huge for our football team. Just do a great job at the quarterback position like he’s done over the last few weeks, and for the most part through the season. Lead us to victory. That would be terrific.

“That being said, we have to have a lot of guys playing well on Sunday against a very good football team. Twelve straight wins in our division, eleven wins this season, they’re a good team. So we need not only Christian playing well, but a lot of other people playing well also.”


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A Win The Size Of Texas: Vikings Top Houston, Win 3rd Straight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 23, 2012 – 5:41 pm

They say everything is bigger in Texas. And that includes NFL upsets. The Vikings earned a huge one on Sunday in the Lone Star State.

The Vikings marched into Reliant Stadium in Houston as 9-point underdogs to the Texans and proceeded to control the game from start to finish along the way to a convincing 23-6 victory that keeps them very much alive in the NFC playoff race.

After holding the Texans to a FG on their first possession, the Vikings responded by driving 78 yards in 8 plays to capture their first score of the game. The drive included a 20-yard dash by Adrian Peterson on the first play, a 27-yard catch-and-run by TE Kyle Rudolph on the third play and a 32-yard perfectly-placed floater from Christian Ponder to Michael Jenkins on 3rd and 6 from the Houston 34. Ponder found Rudolph from 3 yards out on 2nd and goal to finish the drive, and the Vikings led 7-3 midway through the opening quarter.

The teams exchanged punts on each of their next possessions, and then Houston started putting together another nice series near the end of the 1st quarter. But on 2nd and 7 from the Minnesota 28, RB Arian Foster took a handoff and was popped by Vikings LB Jasper Brinkley. Foster coughed up the ball, and Vikings CB AJ Jefferson was there to recover it. The turnover ruined a scoring chance for Houston and led to a Blair Walsh 56-yard FG roughly 5 minutes later; that FG for Walsh set an NFL record for 50-yard FGs in a season (9).

The Vikings extended their lead to 13-3 before halftime, and carried with them into the locker room momentum that would only grow in the 2nd half.

After driving 52 yards in 8 plays and converting a key 3rd and 10 from midfield, the
Vikings offense stalled at the Houston 21. Walsh came on to salvage the drive, converting his third FG of the game and giving the Vikings a 16-3 lead early in the 2nd half.

Neither offense could muster much production the rest of the 3rd quarter, but the Vikings were okay with that because they held a commanding lead and their defense was a step ahead of Houston’s offense all day. Even after a Vikings turnover on a J.J. Watt strip-sack gave Houston possession near midfield, Matt Schaub and Co. continued to be stymied by the Vikings defense.

Exchanged punts continued in the 3rd and early stages of the 4th quarter, finally setting the stage for Ponder to dagger the Texans. The Vikings took possession at their own 36 following a 65-yard punt by Houston. Ponder hit Rudolph for 9 yards on 1st down, then scrambled for 29 yards two plays later to bring the Vikings to the Houston 27. Peterson and Toby Gerhart carried the ball on the Vikings next 5 plays, and then Ponder found Jarius Wright on a shallow crossing pattern to convert a key 3rd-down conversion. A facemask penalty was tacked on, giving the Vikings a 1st and goal from the 3. Gerhart plunged in from there on the next play, finishing a 10-play, 64-yard drive and essentially finishing the Texans for the day.

The Vikings forced a fumble on the next series when Harrison Smith punched the ball from QB T.J. Yates, who had come on to replace starter Matt Schaub. The Vikings recovered and were able to run out the clock from there.

Ponder finished the day with a box score of 16-30 for 174 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs. He played efficient, smart football, often times avoiding the disastrous play and frequently making a clutch throw to pick up a 1st down or take advantage of busted coverage. Peterson, who entered the game 294 yards from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing mark of 2,105 yards, finished the day with 86 tough yards on 25 grinding carries. He is now 102 yards from the 2,000-yard mark and 207 yards from Dickerson’s record.

The Vikings defense put forth a sensational, dominating effort in limiting a Houston offense that averaged 25.5 points per game coming into the contest to no TDs and just 6 points during the entire game. Schaub was frustrated and ineffective all day, completing 18 of 32 passes for 178 yards with no TDs or INTs. Foster, the AFC’s leading rusher, finished the day with 15 yards on 10 carries; he left the game due to an irregular heartbeat, according to the Texans, and did not return. Smith was the Vikings leading tackler and he also had a forced fumble, while he, Jared Allen, Fred Evans and Antoine Winfield collected sacks.

A key moment in the game came late in the 3rd quarter and was registered by the Vikings defense. A 12-yard completion from Schaub to Kevin Walter put Houston on the Vikings 1. From there, though, Houston was unable to punch it in. Schaub threw incomplete on 1st down, #2 RB Ben Tate was stonewalled by Chad Greenway and Kevin Williams on 2nd down, and then Evans sacked Schaub on 3rd down. Houston had to settle for a FG, but it was a momentous victory for the Vikings at that point to surrender just the 3 points. The Texans never got closer than their own 40-yardline from there on out as the Vikings professionally put away their 3rd straight win.

The win is the Vikings 9th of the season, an impressive number considering they were 3-13 a year ago. With the win, the Vikings began their trek back to Minnesota with an extra bounce in their step and knowing they’ll have a shot to make the playoffs next week with a win over the Green Bay Packers at Mall of America Field and perhaps a little help from other teams in the NFC.


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Vikings Start Strong In Houston, Lead 13-3 At Half

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 23, 2012 – 1:29 pm

A stout defensive effort and steady play from QB Christian Ponder paced the Vikings to a 13-3 halftime lead over the Houston Texans.

Texans RB Arian Foster, the AFC’s leading rusher, was held to 12 yards on 8 carries and the Vikings defense got off the field on 3rd down on 5 of 6 attempts. A turning point in the 1st half was a fumble by Foster that was forced by LB Jasper Brinkley as the Texans were driving deep in Vikings territory.

Houston QB Matt Schaub was 10 of 18 for 104 yards, and he was sacked once on a play by blitzing CB Antoine Winfield. Houston came into the game averaging 25.5 offensive points per game.

The Vikings offense, meanwhile, stayed committed to the run. Adrian Peterson had 40 yards rushing on 13 carries. It was Ponder who led the way, though, connecting on 10 of 17 passes for 119 yards, including a TD toss to Kyle Rudolph on the Vikings first drive of the game.

The Vikings will start the 2nd half with the ball and a 10-point lead as they battle for a spot in the NFC playoffs.


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