Almost from the day he was drafted, expectations around Christian Ponder have been as high as the draft slot in which he was selected.
After years of struggling at quarterback, the Vikings got a firsthand taste of what having a field general could do for an offense when Brett Favre arrived in 2009. In the three seasons since then, things have returned to what was "normal" – struggles at the QB position.
Much of the blame for the Vikings problems during the streak in which they've lost five of their last seven games has been placed squarely on the shoulders of Ponder. Whether justified or not, Ponder has been blamed, criticized, broken down and critiqued constantly – ranging from his recent penchant for critical interceptions to his dating life.
As the Vikings prepare for a critical matchup with the Chicago Bears that could make or break their 2012 season, Ponder's teammates came to his defense – sticking up from their embattled quarterback.
"I've got a lot of confidence in Christian," wide receiver Jerome Simpson said. "He's going to bounce back and he's going to have a great game."
Asked if he thought there is too much criticism of Ponder, Simpson left no doubt where he thinks the blame lies.
"Yep, you are," Simpson said, the "you" referring to the media. "He's a tough guy. A lot of this added pressure that's put on him shouldn't be. A lot of criticism shouldn't be put on him. We all make mistakes. I guess that's kind of the nature of being a quarterback, but a lot of this press stuff that's been put on him shouldn't be, because, that guy, he's trying his heart out."
Another of Ponder's wide receivers came to his aid when the question of blame was thrown out, as Devin Aromashodu refused to throw his quarterback under the bus. There is plenty of blame to go around why the passing game has struggled and, while it's natural to blame the guy who is holding the ball at the start of every play, if you're going to play the blame game, there are plenty of culprits to share in it.
"You can't blame it on one person," Aromashodu said. "It takes everyone. From the linemen to the receivers running the right routes to the quarterback to the protection with the running backs, everything has to work together in the passing game. It's a little different than other things you do on offense, but in the passing game it takes everyone – so we have to be in one accord."
So much of the quarterback position is about confidence. When a quarterback is on his game, there are visible cues that his confidence is high. It's during the low times that great quarterbacks are separated from good quarterbacks and good quarterbacks are separated from the pedestrian game manager types. Everson Griffen offered up his own advice for Ponder, insisting that the defense hasn't lost faith in their young quarterback.
"Being a quarterback in the National Football League, it's hard," Griffen said. "Ponder, to me, he just has to go out there and play ball. We have his back. I've never lost confidence in Ponder – nothing like that. He just has to know that the defense has his back and just play up to his potential. Don't worry about outside people coming or the media or anything like that, just go out there and play football – just go out there and play with a swagger like we know he can."
If the Vikings' current slide continues, there will be a lot of discussion about the role Ponder has had in the downturn of the 2012 season. Whether justified or not, Ponder will be at the center of the praise or the blame for the final four games of the Vikings' 2012 season.
Is that fair? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on who you ask, but, in the realm of public opinion, quarterbacks get too much credit during good times and too much of the blame when things go bad – that's why quarterbacks and head coaches are the only people on a football team that have wins and losses associated directly with their names. Like it or not, it's part and parcel of being a quarterback in the NFL.
"I wouldn't say it's fair, because most things you hear about yourself aren't fair," safety Harrison Smith said. "But, that's the way it is. It's part of the business. Some guys might not like it – I don't always like it, but it's just part of it. If you want to be here, that's what you have to deal with. You kind of have to have a thick skin and let it roll off your back."
While Ponder remains the focus of the ire of Vikings fans, one thing that appears certain is that his teammates are backing him and are willing to come to his defense – one of the few times Ponder and defense have been used in the same sentence in recent weeks with a positive outcome.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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