Ponder started his second NFL season with completion percentages of 74.1 and 77.1 yards, with both of those outings producing passer ratings above 100. Since then, however, he has had only one game above the 70-percent completion mark in the last four contests.
Eventually against the Washington Redskins his passing statistics turned out decent, but much of his success came late in the game with the Redskins looking to protect their lead, allowing short passes underneath. By the time it was done, he had completed 35 of 52 passes (67.3 percent) for 352 yards, but also threw two interceptions, took four sacks, and his longest pass of the day was a 23-yarder.
"They didn't do anything we didn't expect. They're a different defense schematically to begin with. They do a lot of different things and coverages, but they didn't do anything that we didn't expect," Ponder said.
While Ponder was pressured early, perhaps the most uncharacteristic part of his game was missing passes to open receivers. As has become habit, most of those passes were of the short variety.
One of those misses was particularly hurtful. He was trying to connect with a wide open Michael Jenkins in the flat, but the pass sailed on him, allowing former Vikings safety Madieu Williams to make the easy interception and return it for a 24-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, giving the Redskins their largest lead of the game, 31-12.
"I tried to check it down and the ball just slipped out of my hand, just sailed," Ponder said. "I'm trying to throw it to Jenkins 7 yards in front of me. Fluke play."
Although it was breezy at FedEx Field – the wind was listed at 14 mph at kickoff – both Ponder and Vikings coach Leslie Frazier dismissed the notion that the wind had anything to do with Ponder's occasional inaccuracy on passes he normal connects.
"The wind was moving, but to say that was a factor in some of the things that happened today, I wouldn't do that," Frazier said.
The missed opportunities started early and were costly. On his first drive, Ponder overthrew Devin Aromashodu in the end zone from 5 yards out, but it might not have mattered because the receiver was well-covered.
On his second drive, he missed Rhett Ellison inside the red zone on another overthrow.
On the Vikings' first non-scoring drive and their first three-and-out, Ponder started with a pass that was too low for Kyle Rudolph, and there were a couple other accuracy issues in the second half as well.
As the Vikings' problems scoring touchdowns in the red zone mounted, inaccuracy might have been as big a problem as anything.
The Vikings have struggled to find a deep passing game all season, but Jerome Simpson has, for all intents, played only one full game, against the Detroit Lions. After serving a three-game suspension, Simpson had four catches for 50 yards in Detroit, but he woke up before the Tennessee Titans game the following week with back problems that caused numbness in his leg and foot. He started that game, but played in only 35 percent of the snaps and was held without a catch.
Because of his back issues, Simpson was made inactive for the Redskins game. Frazier indicated the decision was essentially made after seeing what Simpson looked like in Saturday's walk-through practice.
"Just didn't feel comfortable with what I was seeing in practice in a couple different areas," Frazier said. "I thought it would be a good idea to give him a little bit more time and a full week of practice and try to get back on the field to help us."
Ponder downplayed the loss of Simpson, but the Vikings haven't been able to fully stretch a defense deep without his speed in their lineup.
Ponder tried to pass the ball deep, defined as a pass traveling 16 or more yards downfield, seven times, but he connected on only three of them – two to Percy Harvin and one to Michael Jenkins.
"We won three games before (Simpson) came in," Ponder said. "We've got a lot of playmakers at the wide receiver position. Obviously we want him back, but we're making plays without him."
In addition to missing Simpson, the Vikings' two biggest offensive playmakers were hurting. Adrian Peterson entered the game with an ankle sprain, but Frazier said Peterson never complained about it. Peterson finished the game with 17 rushes for 79 yards.
Percy Harvin strained a hamstring last Wednesday that limited him in practice, but also took a beating on his way to an 11-catch, 133-yard receiving day.
"He's a heck of a player. To watch him definitely motivates us and other players," Ponder said. "The plays that he makes and the hits that he takes and he keeps getting up, we know that he's sore and he's hurting but he's still making plays. He's an unbelievable player, probably the best player in the league right now."
"He came out and played with a heavy heart. That's a heck of a teammate. Very proud of him," Ponder said.
"We talked about it before the game and during the week that we wanted to be able to get some tape on Geoff in game situations and this was an opportunity we thought we could get it done," Frazier said.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.