A lot of stuff went wrong Sunday against Seattle. The offensive line didn’t block well. The defense didn’t cover or tackle well. The coaches made some questionable decisions. Adrian Peterson never got it going. Plenty of blame cards to hand out. But who gets the biggest, blackest blame card of all?
Probably Christian Ponder.
Yeah he’s only one player, and yeah his O-line didn’t give him a lot of help. And yeah he didn’t have Greg Jennings or Kyle Rudolph on the field. If you want to plant some Ponder excuses you can find plenty of seeds. Just don’t expect Leslie Frazier to pick up the watering can.
Frazier did everything but throw Ponder under the bus during his Monday press conference. His very first remark to reporters set the tone for the rest of the presser. “Tough any time you go on the road and you’re playing a good football team. And if you finish minus 4 in the turnover differential and 20 points difference when it comes to turnovers…very very difficult to win in our league,” Frazier said with obvious frustration.
Ponder was responsible for three of the four turnovers, the fourth being a garbage time interception from Matt Cassel. Ponder’s early fumble helped put the Vikings in a hole right away, but they were able to climb halfway out of it thanks in large part to Ponder himself, who atoned for his own mistake by throwing a sweet touchdown pass to Jarius Wright.
But that would be the end of Ponder’s highlight reel for the day. It was a different Ponder in the second half. Different in comparison to the Ponder we saw in the first half and throughout the Washington game. But not different from the Ponder we’ve come to know so well over the last couple years.
Ponder in the second half looked most like the Ponder of 2011, his first year in the league, when he had the excuse of being a raw, untested rookie. Ponder’s two INTs were about the most ugly, inexplicable, inexcusable abominations ever to leave the hand of an alleged established NFL quarterback. Leslie Frazier expressed his disgust by benching Ponder, and it’s clear from Frazier’s Monday remarks that the bad taste still has not been washed away.
Frazier said of the Vikings’ second half collapse, “We had some opportunities going into the fourth quarter to really put some pressure on their team, and it went in a completely different direction with the turnovers.” He added, “That game really boiled down to the minus-4 [turnover differential], the 20 points off turnovers. There were a lot of other things that happened along the way, but that was the difference in the ball game.”
Sensing a theme here? Frazier brought the turnover thing up later when defending the performance of his defense. A reporter asked him about the Vikings being on pace to set a team record for most points allowed in a season. Frazier replied, “I thought yesterday, our defense really did a lot of good things in that ball game. One of the reasons we were right there going into that fourth quarter.
“Some of those points weren’t directly attributable to the defense, but it goes on the defensive stats.”
Frazier was later asked about the two horrible Ponder interceptions – the second one was returned for six points – and what actually happened on those throws. “After looking at the tape, I have a better idea of what [Ponder] saw,” Frazier said with a little hint of sarcasm. “Still don’t agree with where the ball went but I do see what he was looking at.”
I’m glad Frazier appreciates Ponder’s thought process, even if he doesn’t agree with it. Now maybe Frazier would like to explain to us exactly what Christian thought he saw on that dump-off over the middle that went directly to Bobby Wagner. That didn’t look like a bad read so much as a case of a quarterback forgetting what team he played for.
There are naturally some out there who will try to deflect all the blame away from Ponder, the Golden Boy Quarterback of Our Pipe Dreams, and onto their usual whipping boys in the coaching staff, receiver corps, offensive line etc., Leslie Frazier may have once been in that camp, out of duty if not choice, but he’s not in it anymore. Frazier has made it clear by action and words that he is done answering for Ponder’s mistakes.
It’s too bad the Vikings don’t have a viable young QB to throw out there in place of Ponder. Thankfully Rick Spielman will likely be rectifying that come the draft next May. Unfortunately for Frazier, I don’t think he’ll be around to reap the benefits of a new signal caller. His future is and always has been tied to Ponder, and he knows it. And that’s why he’s so frustrated and upset.
He didn’t ask for this, but he’s stuck with it. So are we all.