The only passes from Christian Ponder that didn't sail over a receiver's head or bounce harmlessly out of bounds seemed to land in the arms of a Green Bay defender just as the Minnesota Vikings were approaching the end zone.
At one point, the beleaguered quarterback went nearly 39 minutes of game action without completing a pass, rendering moot another breath-taking performance from Adrian Peterson.
Yet through all the struggles, all the poor footwork and all the back-breaking mistakes that allowed a winnable road game against a division opponent to swirl down the drain, coach Leslie Frazier stuck with Ponder. And he sticks by him still.
Frazier said Monday he never considered pulling Ponder against the Packers and believes he is the QB that gives the team the best chance to win against Chicago this week.
"It hasn't come up any time this season where I thought we needed to pull him out of a game," Frazier said. "That hasn't occurred."
Frazier acknowledged such unwavering support, whether solely his decision or a result of a directive from the front office that drafted Ponder in the first round last season, has the potential to rankle other players in the locker room — players who seem to be held to a different standard of accountability.
"I've thought about that a lot because when you're struggling at a position, the guys know how we talked about everybody doing their jobs and why it's important for us to have our success," Frazier said. "You don't want to send mixed messages at any position."
The Vikings led the Packers 14-10 at halftime, jumping on Peterson's broad shoulders to move into position for a commanding lead early in the third quarter when Peterson ripped off a 48-yard run to the Green Bay 12-yard line. Ponder was intercepted in the end zone on the next play.
With Percy Harvin missing his third straight game, Ponder didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver until late in the fourth quarter. The putrid air game allowed the Packers to weather a 210-yard day from Peterson and a shaky performance from their own offense to drop the Vikings to 6-6.
Ponder's struggles were so glaring that Frazier was asked repeatedly Monday about his reluctance to play backup Joe Webb in the second half. Webb has provided a spark periodically over the past two seasons, including games at Philadelphia in 2010 and at Washington last year.
Frazier has shown a willingness to rotate players during games at other positions, including safety with Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond, and right guard with Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz. But the coach said Monday he approaches quarterback with a different view, one that values continuity above all else.
"I think there's something there where in my mind you don't want to get into a situation where you're not sure who your No. 1 is," Frazier said. "We believe that Christian is our No. 1. ... That being said, if things get to a point where your No. 1 is really costing you some situations that could preclude winning, you do have to do what's best for the football team."
It's getting harder for Frazier to argue that Ponder remains the right choice for the Vikings. They started the season 5-2 thanks in part to Ponder's steady play, but have dropped four of the last five while he has crumbled.
Ponder entered the fourth quarter Sunday with just five completions in the game, all on one drive. He finished 12 of 25 for 119 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. In this pass-happy era of the NFL, Ponder has actually thrown for 76 fewer yards than Peterson has rushed for over the last six games.
For a team holding faint hopes for a playoff berth, the imbalance to the offense has been the biggest reason for its recent downfall.
The unwillingness to go to Webb, even temporarily, would seem an indictment on the depth at the position. The Vikings cut veteran Sage Rosenfels in favor of Webb and developmental quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, giving them three young and largely unproven players at the game's most important position.
Frazier said Monday the team is confident Webb would do well if called upon. But he doesn't see the need right now.
"We believe that Christian is going to continue to develop and grow and be the quarterback that we all expect him to be," Frazier said. "That being said, there's a lot riding on this next ballgame for our football team, and I'm sure there are a lot of guys looking and wondering if we can get it done under the current situation. I believe we can. I believe we'll play better, not only at the quarterback position but at other positions as well. We'll need to as a team."
Frazier admits risks of sticking with Ponder
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