Woodson Ruins Ponder's Debut

Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder gave the Vikings hope for the future, but on Sunday, Charles was still in charge as Woodson grabbed two interceptions.

MINNEAPOLIS – Charles Woodson loves rookie quarterbacks, and the 35-year-old veteran wound up stealing the show from the 23-year-old making his first NFL start.

The Green Bay Packers' Hall of Fame-worthy cornerback ruined Christian Ponder's starting debut by picking off the Minnesota Vikings' first-round draft pick twice. The Packers turned those turnovers into a pair of field goals – crucial points in the Packers' 33-27 victory at Mall of America Field.

"I'm just trying to earn my keep around here," said Woodson, who has five interceptions on the season and 52 for his career.

The Vikings got what they wanted from Ponder: a much-needed spark. Minnesota was averaging a 21st-ranked 20.2 points per game under Donovan McNabb. Ponder certainly wasn't great, especially with the interceptions. He completed just 13-of-32 passes for 219 yards and a passer rating of 59.2. He struggled at times, but, by the same token, made some plays that had been missing from the Vikings offense much of the season. Still, as the quarterback of the present and future, Ponder took the blame for the loss, even though nobody else pinned the blame his way.

"I made some mistakes personally that were crucial and I put this loss on me," Ponder said. "The players around me played extremely well and kept me in it. I'm truly proud of the guys around me and very fortunate to have such good teammates."

His career as a starter couldn't have been more explosive from the get-go. His first pass was a gem. On a called play to take advantage of the Packers' defensive aggression and their focus on Adrian Peterson, Ponder launched a bomb to Michael Jenkins, who was wide open up the left sideline against a busted coverage. His 72-yard catch-and-run to the Packers' 1 set up Ponder's first career touchdown pass, to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

"I was very impressed with him," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "You knew he was a good athlete and could move. His first throw for a touchdown or down to the 1, to come out to his left and make that throw on the double move, I think that alone tells you about his ability. I thought he we very composed for his first start. I thought he did a nice job."

Ponder completed 8-of-14 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown in the first half, good for a passer rating of 111.0 against the NFL's 30th-ranked pass defense. The Vikings held a surprising 17-13 halftime lead, but Woodson and the Packers' defense struck their revenge during the defining third quarter.

Ponder went 0-for-5 in the quarter and threw a pair of interceptions to Woodson.

"They like throwing me the ball," said Woodson, who picked off rookie Cam Newton twice in Week 2. "I just have to keep catching it."

While Ponder stumbled against what Woodson called a relatively vanilla game plan, counterpart Aaron Rodgers completed 5-of-5 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns as the Packers scored 20 unanswered points to take a 33-17 lead after three quarters.

"(Woodson) undercut both of them," Ponder said. "Watching film of him during the week, I saw him do it. I should have picked up on it and thrown the ball over his head."

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Ponder's first start was, with his team down and almost out, he led them on a 93-yard drive that included three conversions on third down, leading to a 24-yard touchdown to Jenkins. Ponder had one chance to win the game but got the ball at his 2-yard line with 5:26 remaining. Ponder converted a third-and-7 against a blitz and a third-and-10 while under heavy pressure from Jarius Wynn. He couldn't convert a third consecutive third down, though. The Vikings punted and Ponder never got another chance.

"The ultimate deciding factor is whether you get the win or not," Ponder said.

The Packers did get the win, which has been the story most weeks during their 13-game winning streak. So, while the Vikings finished with 435 total yards and converted 9-of-16 third downs, the defense did just enough to win.

"A long ways from that," Woodson said when asked to compare this defense to the one that dominated down the stretch last season. "But it's all about winning. As long as we keep winning, we'll be all right."

They'll keep winning as long as Woodson continues making plays.

"Charles Woodson is a tough, instinctive, another special football player," McCarthy said. "He's such a competitor, has a very good understanding of what the offense is trying to do to him. We had a little bit of the unknown coming into this game as far as the quarterback, but the concept recognition is really a strength of Charles, and he can play on offense with his hand-eye coordination and his ball skills. So, getting his hands on the ball was definitely big for us in the third quarter."

Viking Update's John Holler contributed to this story.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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