Sunday night’s defeat at the hands of the Packers was likely the last hurrah for Christian Ponder as the Vikings’ starting quarterback. How did he fare in his probable swan song? If you just look at the stats you could say Ponder had a good, efficient performance. He went 14-21 for 145 yards and didn’t throw a pick. He also added 5 rushes for 38 yards and a late garbage time TD.
Ponder avoided making the big mistake, which has always been a big deal with him, but in the process of doing so he may have been a little too risk-averse, checking down more readily than you would’ve hoped in a game where the team really had nothing on the line. There were occasions when Ponder may have attempted to push the ball downfield a little but he elected to stay within himself and go for the easy underneath completion. The result? Not even close to enough offense to keep up with the Packers.
As usual with Ponder, the stats don’t tell the story. If you watched the performance you saw the same things with Ponder that have always frustrated everyone. Bailing on the pocket too quickly. Not seeing wide open receivers. Not being willing to take chances early in the game.
I’m not saying I expected Ponder to go out and perform like Brett Favre, chucking it all over the field gunslinger style, but I did expect – or maybe I just hoped – that Ponder would loosen up and relax the way he promised after his benching. I bought into the idea that Ponder learned something from being sent to the sidelines and would go out and just play football and enjoy himself.
But after last night it’s obvious Ponder just doesn’t have it in him to loosen up and relax and go out and play football. He’s not wired that way. He’s always going to be the super-cautious Ponder we’ve come to know. He’s always going to be the guy who flees the pocket at the first hint of a rush, afraid of getting hit. He’s always going to be the guy who comes off his first option and just runs for it.
We’re way too far along in the process to give Ponder a free pass for his lack of patience, his lack of command, his lack of trust in his receivers and evidently in himself. If he hasn’t learned by now to wait that extra half-beat, keeping his eyes down the field, and take the hit if necessary – the way all the good QBs do – then he’s never going to learn. He just doesn’t have it.
In other words, we learned absolutely nothing new about Christian Ponder Sunday night. When the heat was on he reverted to his old habits. He didn’t rise from the ashes of his own benching like the Phoenix reborn. He shrugged out from the shadows, picked his way nervously but blandly through the fire and slumped off again at the end.
That’s how Ponder’s Viking tenure comes to a close: with barely a whimper. Next week against the Cowboys it will be Josh Freeman again. And barring injury it will be Freeman for the remainder of the season. And next year, if Freeman fails to prove himself, it will be whatever QB the Vikings pick up in the draft.
Within a year or two Christian Ponder’s tenure will be like the tenure of Tarvaris Jackson, a hazy, vaguely unpleasant memory. A few old jokes bubbling back into our minds, bringing a fleeting smile to our faces. Ponder will have a new team by then or he will be out of the league, maybe co-hosting a TV show with his telegenic wife.
We won’t even remember the way he went out against the Packers. We won’t even remember most things about the way Ponder played. He’s not the kind of guy who leaves much of an impression, unless he’s infuriating you. That’s just what this guy is as a player and always will be: a non-entity.