The criticism comes at a time when Vikings fans could be giddy. Given the dismal franchise-worst 3-13 2011 season, most NFL analysts picked the Vikings to be somewhere in the stench-laden 4-12 neighborhood. Anyone who claimed that 8-8 was a realistic possibility was advised to cut the dose of their medication. The reality is that we are officially less than two weeks from Christmas and the Vikings are still in the playoff hunt.
While Ponder has struggled badly at times, perhaps the malaise with fans is based more on the success other young quarterbacks have had that magnified Ponder's ineffectiveness. There are always growing pains with young QBs, but when you look at the success that rookies Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have enjoyed, Ponder's regression this season has been highlighted even more. The sentiment is that the Vikings are winning despite Ponder, not because of him.
Head coach Leslie Frazier has been more than patient with Ponder, perhaps by design. The team got rid of veteran Sage Rosenfels during training camp to eliminate the veteran competition that could be facing Ponder, leaving Joe Webb and McLeod Bethel-Thompson as his backups. While Webb still brings that athleticism to the position, he hasn't been given much of a chance to operate the controlled offense of Bill Musgrave in game conditions. Perhaps that says something about his performance in practices, or maybe it's just an inflexible philosophy to stick with Ponder throughout the 2012 season, for better or worse.
Whether Vikings fans like it or not, Ponder has been the man all season and likely will remain the quarterback of the Vikings, whether he succeeds or fails, in the final three games. It would appear that, much like Brad Childress got locked into developing Tarvaris Jackson and the two were linked together, Ponder and general manager Rick Spielman would also seem to be defined as a pair. Ponder's success (or lack of it) will be tied in with Spielman's decision to draft him as well as clear out his competition.
If Ponder has a big game against St. Louis Sunday, the naysayers will be silenced for a while. If he struggles and the Vikings lose, the chorus to replace him will only get louder. There are a lot of perks to being an NFL quarterback. But there are also downsides and, unfortunately for Ponder, he is being viewed as the weak link on a Vikings team looking to make a postseason run.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.