Vikes Pick Ponder To Escape Post-Favre Abyss

Even with a roster with several blue-chip players, the Vikings enter Sunday's game against the Packers with a 1-5 record. The Vikings hoped Donovan McNabb could replace Brett Favre but, even considering Favre's miserable final season, the Vikings' passing game has been horrible.

In 2009, Brett Favre was a fourth-quarter interception from potentially leading the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl.

In 2010, Father Time finally sacked Favre, and the Vikings went from first place in the NFC North to tied for last place.

With Favre retired for good – and none of his former teammates rushing to Hattiesburg, Miss., to beg him to return for one more season -- the Vikings were in quarterback abyss for this season.

"I think we made a play to win, to win a championship," Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, looking back at the decision to go all-in with Favre in 2009, said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. "We got to an NFC Championship Game, so he did some good things for us. Obviously, we really didn't have anybody waiting in the wings to take over and we're not in a position like some of the other guys are in our division to have an established quarterback that's been in the system for a while. I guess we'll see what the future has ahead. I try to take each year at a time, so I don't look and say that knocked us back two steps. I thought our organization did what we had to do to try to win a championship."

In hopes of getting back to that championship level, the Vikings used their first-round pick to get their long-term answer at quarterback, Florida State's Christian Ponder, and tried to bridge past and future by acquiring Donovan McNabb from the Washington Redskins for a sixth-round draft pick.

McNabb, however, played like the past-his-prime quarterback who went 5-8 with a career-high 15 interceptions as a starter last season rather than the superstar who had led the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC Championship Games. The Vikings, even with a cast of veteran stars like Adrian Peterson, Allen and Antoine Winfield, are a last-place 1-5 heading into Sunday's home game against the undefeated Green Bay Packers. With the season on the brink, the Vikings have named Ponder their starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

These Vikings look like they're miles away from winning a championship. And it's hard to imagine that Ponder can turn things around when even coach Leslie Frazier said McNabb had "done some good things" but wasn't getting enough help from those around him.

"I really approached it that this is a move that was made that would help us to have the best chance to win on Sunday, and that's what I explained to our team," Frazier said in his conference call. "It's not a move where Christian's going to grow into the position, and three weeks later, he's going to be a top-notch quarterback, or a move that was made as we're looking forward to 2012. It was truly made to give us the best chance to be successful on this coming Sunday."

Ponder won't have to do it by himself. With Peterson, who's sixth in the league in rushing and first in rushing touchdowns, the Vikings boast the NFL's third-ranked rushing attack. With Allen, who leads the league with 9.5 sacks, and Kevin Williams, the Vikings rank third in sacks and fourth against the run.

The hope is, Ponder can add a spark to a dreadful passing game. Minnesota enters the game ranked 31st in net passing. Top receiver Percy Harvin is tied for 30th in receptions and 64th in receiving yards while averaging 10.8 yards per catch. The other starting receiver, Michael Jenkins, and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe both average less than 10 yards per reception. Only four teams average less than the Vikings' average of 10.9 yards per completion. Their only receptions of longer than 30 yards have come from reserve receiver Devin Aromashodu (60 yards), backup running back (Toby Gerhart) and backup tight end (Kyle Rudolph).

Even in a miserable final season, Favre's yards per completion (11.6) and yards per attempt (7.0) were far suprior to McNabb's 10.9 and 6.6.

Because of that meager production, Frazier hinted that this move has been considered for a few weeks. Seeing Ponder complete 9-of-17 passes for 99 yards in the fourth quarter of last week's 39-10 blowout loss at Chicago only sped up the future-is-now decision.

"One of the reasons that the change was made is because where we are right now, our margin for error when it comes to wins and losses has shrunk," Frazier said. "So, in my mind, this change needed to be made to give us the best chance to win on Sunday. If we can get that done, it gives us an opportunity to continue to pursue our goals."

With five losses, though, those playoff goals seem like on life support. That's a tough pill to swallow for Allen, who is in his eighth season in the league and leads the NFL with 92.5 sacks during that span.

"You know what, it's devastating at times, but you've got to put a smile on your face, come to work and try to turn things around," Allen said. "It would be one thing if we were just weren't talented, but really we're underachieving as a team right now. It can wear on your mind and you think back to '09, and hopefully '09 is not the closest we get. You don't know how many years you have. Each play could be your last play, so 1-5 is tough to swallow but we've got a good group of guys around here with a lot of character, so I've got to believe that eventually there's going to be something good around this."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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