This would make a good PTI-type toss-up question. Who will have more pressure on them Saturday: Christian Ponder or Aaron Rodgers? Well, that’s an easy one to answer. It’s Aaron Rodgers. By a lot. Actually, I would argue it’s Aaron Rodgers by infinity. Christian Ponder has zero pressure on him in this game. And Aaron Rodgers has all the pressure.
Why do I think this? Let’s break it down this way. Look at where the game is being played. Lambeau Field. Look at Aaron Rodgers’ home playoff record. 0-1. Look at what happened to Rodgers and the Packers last year in the playoffs. They were 15-1 in the regular season and then got flattened by the Giants in their first game. One of the bigger choke-jobs in postseason history. The 15-1 Vikings of 1998 at least got to the conference title game.
This is what Rodgers is up against: A legacy of recent home playoff futility that is actually rather frightening. Besides last year’s collapse, you’ve got the NFC title game Tom Coughlin Red Face Bowl loss. Go back a couple more years and you’ve got the first round fail against the Vikings and Randy Moss. And a couple years before that, the fail against Michael Vick and the Falcons.
Yes I realize those last three losses were not on Rodgers. But they do loom large in the minds of Packer fans. Packer fans might deny this but they’re lying. They feel the sting from those home playoff failures. It has built up over the years. Right now it is making them a little nervous. It used to be “The Packers never lose in the playoffs at Lambeau.” Now it’s “The Packers often lose in the playoffs at Lambeau.” The fans would like to see this reversed.
The pressure to reverse this trend and get the Packers back to home dominance is on Rodgers. He’s the QB. He’s the legend-in-the-making. Even if the loss isn’t his fault, it will be on his legacy. And fans realize what the deal is with this team. The defense is once again not that good. They couldn’t stop Adrian Peterson to save their lives. And they gave up big third down conversions to Christian Ponder and the Vikes’ less-than-vaunted passing game. It’s on Rodgers’ head to make this bad feeling go away.
Conversely, Christian Ponder has absolutely zero pressure on him. This may sound strange after the way fans bashed Ponder. If he plays as dismally in this game as he did the last time at Lambeau, won’t the heat turn back up? I would argue no. I think Ponder has already outdone any reasonable expectations for his performance. He has already proven that he belongs in the league and can successfully lead an offense provided that offense is set up right for his skills. Everything else is gravy.
Only the most irrational Ponder-haters will go back to hating Ponder if the Vikings lose Saturday. Reasonable folks will realize that Ponder already led them farther than anyone expected and actually winning in Lambeau was just too much to hope for. They’ll give Ponder a hearty pat on the back for what he’s already accomplished and look forward to next year.
It’s all about where these two franchises are at right now. The Vikings are rising. They’ve already done more than anyone thought they would do. The Packers on the other hand are built to be some kind of dominant juggernaut. They’ve got the alleged best QB. They’ve got all these offensive weapons. They put a lot into improving their defense. They have to win this game. They have to make the NFC title game at least or the season will be perceived as a massive failure.
Aaron Rodgers knows this. Trust me, no one is putting more pressure on Rodgers than Rodgers himself. Not the fans. Not the media. Not anyone. Rodgers can handle that pressure. He’s cool and calm out there. I don’t expect anything less than his best effort Saturday. I hope Ponder also understands his own situation and realizes that he should feel absolutely no pressure at all. I hope he goes out there and plays loose like an underdog should. He played pretty loose on Sunday and it worked out well.
I’m sure the coaches are filling Ponder’s ear with this right now. No pressure on you Christian. It’s all on the other guy. Just go out and play. Same holds true for the teams at large. All the pressure is on Green Bay in front of their home fans with Super Bowl expectations on their shoulders and the cries of pain from recent playoff failures ringing in their ears. Vikings lose, it’s congratulations on a great season you plucky bunch of rascals, now go get ‘em in 2013. Packers lose, it’s second year in a row huge choke-job, most disappointing failed dynasty ever assembled.
Vikings have done a great job playing from the underdog position all year. They thrived on it the last month. Ponder seemed to respond to this by playing with less-and-less inhibition as the last four games wore on. He seems to finally get it. He’s here. He’s the QB. He doesn’t have to feel it all on his shoulders. This week, he shouldn’t feel anything on his shoulders. Out there in the crisp cold Lambeau air, it will all be on the guy wearing #12.