As a rookie, as would be expected, Ponder was consistently ranked near the bottom of the league for NFL quarterbacks. You didn't have to factor in the obvious categories – attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, etc. But in the comparative categories – completion percentage, yards per attempt, TD percentage, interception percentage, passer rating, etc. – Ponder still ranked near the bottom of the league.
An apologist would make excuses that Ponder was a rookie and came in blind due to the lockout and didn't work with the first-team offense until it was clear that Donovan McNabb's career was over before he or head coach Leslie Frazier would admit it. It was a good time to be an apologist, because there were so many excuses that could be thrown out.
But what Ponder has accomplished through three games is really quite astounding, even though it would seem only Vikings fans and those who watch game film for a living are currently giving Ponder his due props.
In three games, Ponder has thrown just 97 passes. There are 19 others who have thrown more times and thrown for more yards. But what he has done with those 97 passes puts him in pretty rarified air.
Most stats are based on simple numbers. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are going to throw more passes than Matt Schaub or Joe Flacco because both of the latter have running backs that are the focus of their offense. But the often confusing passer rating (not quarterback as some will say) speak volumes to the efficiency of the passing that takes place when he drops back – the only thing quarterbacks have in common on pass plays.
In the numbers that immediately catch the attention of most football fans, Matthew Stafford is the better quarterback going into today's game. He is tied for fourth in pass attempts, first in completions and ninth in yards. Yet, when it comes to the factors that determine a passer rating, Stafford is 22nd, behind Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker.
Ponder has pedestrian numbers in terms of prolific passing, but, when it comes to the numbers that count in terms of the accepted passer rating (ESPN can take their "new" rating system and file it away in terms of relevance by hearing Chris Berman say, "back, back, back, back!" for the millionth time), Ponder has put together a more impressive body of work.
Only Atlanta's Matt Ryan has a higher completion percentage than Ponder's 70.1 percent (Ryan is at 72 percent). Ponder hasn't thrown an interception – one of only three starting QBs that can claim that. Then again, he's only thrown 79 passes. Add to that Ponder's success on third downs (a passer rating of 93.0) and in the fourth quarter (114.5), his numbers are even more impressive.
Through three games, according to the established benchmark for quarterback success, Ponder ranks fifth – with a passer rating of 104.9. Stafford is 22nd with a passer rating of 83.5.
What makes the passer rating pertinent, aside from the fact that the Vikings are 2-1 and the Lions are 1-2, is who is in the top 10 among quarterbacks early on in the 2012 season. They are more a "who's that?" than a "who's who" among the big-ticket NFL signal-callers.
Through the first three weeks of the season, the top nine passers by the league's rating system are Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Kevin Kolb, Andy Dalton, Ponder, Robert Griffin III, Alex Smith, Schaub and Flacco.
Nowhere on that list will you find Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Stafford, Drew Brees, Michael Vick or Jay Cutler – who, for the convenience of fans, are listed in order of their descending passer rating.
If you use the NFL's official barometer of what makes a good quarterback, the Vikings are the better team heading into today's game. But what does that mean?
Well, the QBs with the top 10 passer ratings through three weeks have won 21 games. The QBs for the 10 teams with the lowest passer ratings have combined to win 11 games. Take it for what it's worth. Reality can kick you in the head sometimes. In a QB-driven league, numbers speak volumes, which could explain why today's game may be a must-win for the Lions four games into the season.
VIKINGS-LIONS BY THE NUMBERS
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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.