Christian Ponder's preseason debut showed plenty of building blocks and a few areas to improve. In other words, a decent initial showing for a first-round rookie quarterback. Plus, get more than 20 notes to tell the tale of the tape.
As debuts go, Christian Ponder
's first outing wasn't an artistic success, but it wasn't a disaster, either. He had four drives in the game, taking over midway through the third quarter and had both good moments and bad.
In his first NFL pass, the Vikings' first-round pick completed a 10-yard pass to fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph
for a first down on his first play from scrimmage. But his opening drive stalled after misfiring on a second-down slant pass intended for Jaymar Johnson
and being sacked on third down to force a punt.
He again picked up a first down on his first pass of the second drive he engineered, hitting Lorenzo Booker
with a swing pass for 10 yards. He looked a little like Frank Tarkenton on a third-and-16 play, scrambling wildly behind the line and turning his back to play to escape pressure, eventually delivering a strike to Emmanuel Arceneaux
that picked up 17 yards for a first down. However, the play was negated by an unrelated personal foul on center Brandon Fusco
that would force another punt.
On his first drive of the fourth quarter, fans got their first look at the playmaking ability of Ponder, who moved the Vikings into scoring position by completing passes of 16 yards to tight end Allen Reisner
and 26 yards to wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias
. But, after struggling to get a play called in time, Ponder got called for delay of game and the drive stalled in the red zone.
His final drive wasn't anything to brag about. He completed a couple of short passes, including a 7-yard underhand flip-toss to fullback Matt Asiata
to keep the drive moving forward, but threw an incompletion of fourth down with a defender draped all over him.
Ponder's debut was solid but unspectacular, but it could have been much worse. He showed flashes of what the Vikings saw in him when they drafted him with the 12th pick in April. He did it against the third-team defense of the Titans and will get his chance to show what he can do next week against Seattle, when he will be given a shot as the No. 2 quarterback.
As far as debuts go, it wasn't great and it wasn't terrible. It was somewhere in the middle, which the Vikings will likely accept for a first outing from their QB of the future.
It was clear that the Vikings were looking to get a glimpse of their backup talent at several positions. Aside from the three players who have missed all of training camp due to injuries – CB Cedric Griffin, TE Visanthe Shiancoe and G Anthony Herrera – defensive end Jared Allen and CB Antoine Winfield were both benched to allow younger players to get more evaluation time.
Adrian Peterson started the game, but, after carrying for three yards on the first offensive play of the game for the Vikings, he went to the sidelines and stayed there.
The final stats weren't nearly as lopsided as they were early, given that the Titans were playing ball control football in the second half with a 14-0 lead. Tennessee ended up with 290 total yards (194 passing, 96 rushing), while the Vikings had 248 yards (150 passing, 98 rushing).
Tennessee held the ball for 30:58 – holding the ball for 13:31 of the game's first 18 minutes, but just 17:27 of the game's final 45 minutes.
Donovan McNabb had a decent, but unspectacular debut, completing six of 11 passes for 40 yards in two series. Because Tennessee had two long drives in their first two possessions, McNabb and most of the offensive starters played into the second quarter.
Joe Webb had his moments, but more as a rusher than a passer. Showing happy feet in the backfield, he escaped the pocket more times than not, completing four of eight passes for 45 yards and rushing five times for 33 yards. However, it was his interception in the second quarter that put the Vikings in a deep hole and eventually gave Tennessee a 14-0 lead late in the first half.
Lorenzo Booker was given multiple opportunities to show his value as a rusher, receiver and return man. He led all rushers with nine carries for 47 yards and led the team in receptions with three for a team-high 32 yards.
Typical of preseason games, a lot of players got their hands on the ball in the passing game. Vikings quarterbacks completed 18 passes, but they went to 14 different receivers. Booker caught three passes, Bernard Berrian and Asiata caught two passes each and a whopping 11 players caught one pass each.
As far as the quarterbacks were concerned, the Titans had a huge advantage in the first half. Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker combined to complete 12 of 15 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown in the first half.
Locker finished his NFL debut with a pretty efficient outing, completing 7 of 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. However, two of his three incompletions were horribly off target, the primary criticism of his game.
Rookie Brandon Burton stood out more than any of the Vikings rookies, making a tackle on a one-on-one bubble screen and breaking up a pair of passes thrown his way.
The only in-game injury came to defensive end D'Aundre Reed. However, Reed walked off the field under his own power, which made it appear as though the leg injury he sustained wasn't significant.
There were a lot of questions coming into the game about the team's punt return position. Jaymar Johnson may have staked a claim to regaining that job with the Vikings, bringing a fourth-quarter punt back 40 yards. That came after Booker inexplicably let a first-half punt land two yards behind him that potentially could have hit him if it had bounced forward instead of harmlessly rolling to a stop at the 6-yard line. Marcus Sherels fared little better, fielding a punt after letting it bounce and being taken down for a 5-yard loss.
Eric Frampton made a big special-teams play following the Vikings' only points of the game, as they were searching to get some momentum built up. On the Ryan Longwell kickoff following a third-quarter field goal, Frampton tackled Tennessee return man Damian Williams on the 11-yard line. But, as the final score would indicate, the Vikings were unable to take full advantage of the excellent field position, despite forcing Tennessee into a three-and-out.
The Vikings offense didn't cross midfield until 11:25 remained in the third quarter.
The Titans dominated the first-half stats, outgaining the Vikings 195-105 and holding the ball for 17:34 of the game's first 30 minutes and never letting the Vikings get in any sort of rhythm offensively.
The Vikings didn't have a penalty in the first half until the final two minutes, but it was huge – a 19-yard pass interference call on Sherels that led to a Tennessee touchdown on the next play to give the Titans a 14-0 lead. What made the penalty so problematic was that Locker's pass landed three yards out of bounds and was technically uncatchable, but Sherels mugged the receiver.
Locker's first career touchdown came on a bizarre play that made the Vikings' second-round pick in 2010, Chris Cook, look bad. Locker fumbled the snap and got Cook to make a move toward the line, only to have Locker scoop up the ball and find wide receiver Yamon Figurs wide open for a 45-yard touchdown to give Tennessee a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.
The Titans had two impressive drives to start the game. On the game's opening drive, they moved from their own 27 to the Vikings 16-yard line without facing a third down, but a bizarre first-down fumble that got kicked backwards resulted in a 30-yard loss – setting up the rare second-and-40 situation (there aren't a lot of plays in the playbook to deal with that). On their second drive, Tennessee converted three third-down plays, part of a 14-play drive that ate up more than eight minutes of game time, but ended with a missed 38-yard field goal attempt from Rob Bironas.
Christian Ballard made his presence felt in the second quarter by shooting between two Titans offensive linemen and bringing Locker down for a sack.
Ponder didn't use a wristband to translate plays, but Locker was consistently going to a playsheet downsized to his wristband when relaying play calls for Tennessee.
Tennessee had two fumbles on its first drive, but was able to recover both and not give the Vikings a chance for an early swing of momentum.
Asher Allen got the start at cornerback for the Vikings ahead of Cook.
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.