Christian Ponder had his worst passer rating of the season Sunday against a difficult San Francisco 49ers defense, but he may have played his best game.
Ponder connected on his first four pass attempts before he was knocked down after a missed blitz pickup and then rushing a pass to second-year receiver Stephen Burton. Still, Ponder avoided a sack all game for the first time this season. By the time he was done helping to engineer at 24-13 win over the top-ranked team in the league, according to the Associated Press power rankings, Ponder had "only" completed 60 percent of his passes, more than 14 percentage points lower than his previous two games.
Still, save for two errant throws – including one that should have been intercepted but wasn't – Ponder was doing a lot of the little things that make a quarterback, and a team, successful.
"I thought from a decision-making standpoint it may have been his best game. He did a lot of good things on the move, but even in the pocket," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "I know there was one occasion where they were barreling down on him and there were times in the past where he might have held onto the ball a little longer and taken a sack, but he ended up throwing the ball out of bounds and I said on the headset, ‘Man, he's growing up. He's getting it.' In certain situations you have to recognize when the play is dead. He's beginning to do that and that's going to make us a better football team going forward."
Ponder wasn't precise on every throw, but he did show a willingness to step up in the pocket – something he admitted he needed to do better in the preseason – kept the 49ers off-balance with his scrambling and running ability and did throw away the ball when the pocket collapsed and he was out of time and options.
He is also growing in his ability to read NFL defenses. According to receiver Percy Harvin, Ponder has made a big jump in that aspect of his game.
"Tremendously. I've said it all of training camp, I think he's more comfortable," Harvin said. "He's had a long offseason working over the same plays. I think it's just repetition. The more he keeps repping it, the better he's going to be."
Ponder said he is doing a little more changing of plays at the line of scrimmage, whether that is adjustments in protection or changing which side of the field a running play is going. In order to do that, he needs to understand what different defenses are doing to him.
"I understand them definitely more. The more you see them on the field and on film, the more you begin to understand certain things and the game slows down," Ponder said.
In some instances Ponder has been fortunate to avoid an interception, but he has been better with the decisions and avoided an interception in 97 attempts this season.
Harvin, Ponder's favorite target, said there isn't much of the playbook being held back from the second-year quarterback, who is scheduled to make the 14th start of his career Sunday against a Detroit Lions defense that doesn't have an interception yet.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Details, familiarity blend nicely for Ponder
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