The Vikings sure look and sound a lot like a team on the verge of a quarterback switch.
Coach Leslie Frazier said Monday he'll take the next two days to talk with his staff and promised a decision by Wednesday, when the team begins on-the-field preparations for Sunday's home game against the Green Bay Packers.
Perhaps Frazier truly hasn't decided, but by waiting a couple of days to announce his choice, he'll make the Packers do a little extra homework as the coaches began their film breakdowns of the Vikings on Monday.
"We'll have a chance to see Ponder on tape a little bit from the game last night," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. "You're talking about a veteran quarterback who can move around and a young guy that obviously has good ability or he wouldn't have been picked where he was. I really haven't had a chance to study Ponder yet. I've certainly played against McNabb a number of times."
Capers and the Packers faced McNabb when he was with Washington last season. McNabb's numbers that day were glittering — 26-of-49 for 357 yards — but the Redskins had to settle for a 13-13 tie in regulation, and the defense set up Washington's winning field goal in overtime.
The story isn't entirely different this season. On paper, McNabb's numbers are just fine. He's completed 60.2 percent of his passes and thrown just two interceptions. However, he's not moving the ball down the field and the Vikings aren't scoring points — their 20.2 points per game rank 21st. He's thrown four touchdown passes, and he's averaging 10.9 yards per completion. So, while his 82.9 passer rating is a respectable 19th in the league, he's 27th with 6.6 yards per attempt.
On Sunday night at Chicago, McNabb completed 79.2 percent of his passes and his rating was 97.4 — both season highs. However, the Vikings managed 10 points as McNabb's 19 completions moved the ball just 177 yards.
Ponder relieved McNabb for the fourth quarter with the Vikings on their way to a 1-5 record. Getting his first NFL playing time, he completed 9-of-17 passes for 99 yards.
"Any time you're in this situation as a defense, you prepare for both quarterbacks," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Christian played in the fourth quarter, so we'll have some tape on him and look at some preseason tape, that will be part of our preparation. We played against Donovan McNabb last year when he was in Washington and obviously have a lot of tape to watch on Donovan this year, so we'll be prepared either way."
From the Vikings' perspective, the division standings suggest pride is all that can be salvaged from the season, though Frazier refused to turn his focus to the future.
"Right now, 2012 is not really on the radar," he said.
Frazier was steadfast in his defense of McNabb until after the 39-10 drubbing by the Bears. The coach hasn't come close to criticizing the 34-year-old, six-time Pro Bowl pick he pushed the organization to acquire in a trade, after the lockout prevented Ponder from practicing all spring and summer with the team. Frazier has stopped endorsing McNabb as the starter, however, a possible sign of an impending move.
"We're going to talk about a lot of things, but the primary point will be what's best for our team as we go forward," Frazier said.
Neither McNabb nor Ponder were available in the locker room Monday when it was open to reporters. The veterans on this team that's less than two years removed from missing the Super Bowl by four points, though, aren't interested in participating in a rebuilding project.
"Here's the way I look at it. We're still in 2011. We've got Green Bay next week. If you're looking forward to 2012, then I say you leave this locker room and you come back in 2012," defensive end Brian Robison said.
McNabb statistically is coming off his best game for Minnesota. His 19-of-24 performance included a glaring drop by Bernard Berrian on a third-down slant pattern in which the ball hit the wide open receiver squarely in the hands. McNabb has turned over the ball only twice in six games, and Brett Favre had lost four fumbles and been intercepted 10 times by this point last season.
But McNabb was sacked four times on his last six snaps and went down without resistance when he was tackled for the safety in the first quarter. He has four touchdown passes this year and three completions longer than 35 yards.
The Vikings could make a strong argument that, despite the lack of development time for Ponder, playing the rookie is not only good for the future but the right move to give the offense more life for the present. Frazier said he doesn't want to flip-flop from week to week, so if Ponder gets the nod, the job will probably be his for good — and McNabb, conceivably, could've played his final NFL game.
The defending champion and undefeated Packers appear on the schedule for two of the next three games, but Frazier said the quality of the opponent won't factor into the evaluation.
"The only qualifier is what's best for our team, and that will be the criteria we use when we sit down and continue these discussions over the next couple days," Frazier said.
Ponder was Minnesota's first-round draft pick this year, taken 12th out of Florida State. He has shown elusiveness and confidence in the pocket, though he was erratic against the Bears, and Frazier said he was impressed by the way Ponder moved the team up the field.
"For a guy who gets limited reps in practice, it seems he had a good grasp, like we thought he would, of our offense," Frazier said.