Christian Ponder thinks he "definitely" has the starting quarterback position solidified for 2013, and he's got the backing of Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.
At his season-ending press conference Tuesday, Frazier was asked if Ponder is the team's starter in 2013: "He's our starter, yes," Frazier said.
Ponder finished the season completing 62.1 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for an 81.2 rating. Those are all improvements over his numbers from his rookie season, when he started 10 games, completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 70.1 rating.
It will be enough to have Ponder remain the Vikings' top option when the 2013 season opens.
"That's what I see it as. But obviously I think I've got to continue to earn it and continue to do things that I earn the right to play and be on the field," Ponder said. "Whether it's competition or not, I want to feel like I've earned it."
That was in question when the Vikings were 6-6 and Frazier had to field questions about Ponder's status as a starter after the quarterback was booed at Mall of America Field. A late-season resurgence in his performance, including a career-high passer rating of 120.6 in the season finale, left Frazier assured that Ponder deserves another year as the team's starter.
"We're excited about his progress. The way he played down the stretch, he was great. He had a lot to do with us winning those last four games the way we did," Frazier said. "… We saw glimpses of what he can bring to our football team, and the way he led us down the stretch, you feel like you've got a chance to win every game when your quarterback plays the way he played. So we're excited about his development and looking forward to him getting better this offseason."
In the last four games of the season, with pressure mounting, Ponder had one of the best stretches of his two-year-old career. During the Vikings' four-game winning streak, he completed 60.6 percent of his passes, increased his yards-per-attempt from 6.1 to 6.3 and passed for 630 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and an 88.4 rating.
"I can do the things to help this team, being in the position to be successful. Not just me, but this whole team can handle the pressure of what it takes to get to a playoff berth," Ponder said. "We knew that if we lost we wouldn't be able to make it. Just to handle that pressure as a whole team, just with as young as we are, that showed a lot. I need to play at that level consistently for 16 games for the regular season and learn from that and use what I did in those games to work on next year."
Although his improved play helped the Vikings become a playoff team, Ponder wasn't able to play in the opening game of the postseason because of a deeply bruised triceps muscle on his throwing arm. With his backup, Joe Webb, struggling, the Vikings lost to the Green Bay Packers 24-10.
Frazier said it was "unfortunate" Ponder wasn't able to play and said he did everything in his power to get the triceps muscle to respond.
"It just wouldn't have been a wise decision to put him out there with the injury that he had. (He) just didn't get the flexion back in that tricep," the coach said.
Despite that, Ponder reflected on his season and said his improved decision-making is one of the top aspects he will take away from his second year in the NFL. Before the final four games of the season, he had thrown 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with the low point being two second-half interceptions in a Dec. 2 loss to Green Bay. His final month of play improved those numbers to 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
"I think after that first Green Bay game, kind of realizing that I needed to take calculated risks and understanding what risks I should and shouldn't take, and getting a wrap around that and developing that idea that over the next four games into that last Green Bay game, I just learned a lot out of that," Ponder said.
"I obviously had some games that I wish I could take back and some plays I wish I could take back. Those are some things that you learn from and we were able to get into the playoffs. I think I made a pretty good leap in the first year to the second year. I expect an even greater leap from the second year to the third year. I think I learned a lot more this year than I did last year and the things that I was able to do. I learned a lot from this season and look for an even better season in 2013."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.