Less than three months after Ponder got his first NFL start, and less than five months after he was first able to work with his offense, the trigger-happy sideline GMs were ready to write him as a "reach" or even a wasted draft pick … or, on the opposite end, the next Fran Tarkenton. Likewise, Frazier was being vilified for a three-win season despite having the odds stacked against him as soon the NFL lockout began. And with Peterson, some people didn't even wait for the MRI image on the screen to be confirmed before erroneously espousing that his career was over.
For those quick with a surefire, no-consequences opinion, it's time to back up the truck, take a deep breath and look at the big picture.
First, Ponder. Clearly, the rookie quarterback is trying to figure it all out. Looking and sounding like Rocky Balboa at his weekly press conference Wednesday with a busted-up lip and gashes on his nose and hand, Ponder was his usual forthcoming, analytical self. His assessment appears to be dead on.
"There are kind of stages that you go through as a quarterback," Ponder said. "When you first go in, you don't really have expectations and no one has expectations of yourself, and you are just going out to wing it. And then you get into more of a thinking stage and I think that was what I was going through. I was thinking about stuff and things were speeding up as I was trying to think too much, and now I realized that and put it behind me.
"I have gone through the same thing in every level I have played. From high school to college, you go through those things and you learn from it and when you start relaxing the game slows down and you start getting better."
There are numerous examples of quarterbacks that have struggled early their careers, and predictions can be based off those for future success or continued tribulations, depending on the argument you want to forward. In 1998, Peyton Manning started all 16 games in his rookie season, averaging only 6.5 yards per completion and posting a 71.6 passer rating (levels he never fell to again) and throwing more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (26). So far this year, Ponder is 6.5 yards per completion, has a 72.4 passer rating and has one more touchdown (13) than interception (12).
Of course, there are past failures that can be pointed to, as well. Where are all the fans that used to insist the Vikings make a play for Brady Quinn … or Derek Anderson … or Matt Leinart … or any number of one-time ballyhooed ballers who never lived up to the hype. Isn't that proof that it's too early to know for sure whether Ponder will pan out or simply get panned?
"I was putting too much pressure on myself those three previous games," Ponder said of his starts before Washington. "I didn't let myself just cut loose and perform. I felt a lot better and a lot more relaxed and I will do it again this game and just put all that behind me."
And, until the Vikings solve their offensive line issues, it's impossible to put together a well-rounded assessment of any quarterback operating behind them.
"I've got great bosses and they've been very supportive. Write that. Very supportive," Frazier said after being asked numerous ways about his job security last week. "Even in the midst of … a 3-12 season, they've been very supportive, which I'm thankful for."
The Wilfs certainly could do an about-face, but there has been so much change at Winter Park in the last year – moving away from the veteran stop-gap quarterback to the rookie, switching offensive systems, and the shedding of aging and out-of-shape talent in trying to build for the future and trim to get under the salary cap – that another dramatic move in the coaching staff would likely mean another year of transition. The past two have felt like enough change.
"My job security has never been an issue other than when I'm talking to you guys (reporters). That's the truth," Frazier said. "We're going to get this thing turned eventually. We'll get it done."
The fact that the players are still trying to get wins in a lost season is proof that they haven't given up. With an infusion of rookie and veteran talent and an offseason to get everyone on the same page, 2012 will be Frazier's legitimate chance to prove his coaching worth. The lockout won't be an excuse and his moves right after the lockout –the release of Bryant McKinnie, Madieu Williams and later Bernard Berrian – will have had a chance to adequately be addressed. Next year at this time, a more complete assessment of Frazier's value can be made.
That may be a rosy, optimistic outlook, but at this point it's premature to stick a dagger in the franchise's most valuable playing asset. Peterson's ultra-competitive desire and his steely determination can be factors in his return. Many never believed E.J. Henderson would be able to return after his gruesome fractured femur two years ago and Peterson's injury, while far different, isn't considered as big an unknown as Henderson's in the pro football arena.
He won't be full strength for minicamps and likely won't be up to speed at the start of training camp, but it's too early to automatically assume he'll never be the same again.
As the calendar flips to the new year, the Vikings are filled with important questions, many of which won't be answered until at least the season opener and more likely next year's bye. Until then, patience in the public discussion could be beneficial.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.