In a team game, it's hard to point fingers at any one particular player as to why a team wins or loses a game. However, the pitiful performance from Christian Ponder Sunday in the Vikings' 23-14 loss to Green Bay comes as close as any can to say one player was the reason a team lost a game.
After winning the coin toss and deferring to the Packers, Green Bay marched down the field and scored to take a 7-0 lead. After the Vikings went three-and-out, Green Bay rolled on a 12-play drive that took almost six minutes to give the Packers a 10-0 lead.
The Vikings responded with a long drive of their own, marching 71 yards on 14 plays that took nearly seven minutes to get a touchdown that would cut the deficit to 10-7. But that drive would be monumental because it was the only drive through the game's first 40 minutes that the Vikings wouldn't be sending their defense back on the field almost immediately.
In seven of their first eight drives from the start of the game until the final drive of the third quarter, the Vikings had no more than three offensive plays. Five of those drives were the typical three-and-punt variety. One of the other two was a third-down gallop of 82 yards by Peterson to give the Vikings a 14-10 lead. The final one was a three-play drive that started with a 48-yard run by Peterson to the Green Bay 12-yard line and ended when Ponder was intercepted in the end zone.
"With what's at stake this season, this game was important. Obviously there is still everything in our hands," Ponder said. "For what this game means to this team, this state, with how Adrian played, it's disappointing to go out throw two interceptions. There's a couple more plays besides that that I wish I could have back. It's disappointing."
It's hard to blame the Vikings defense for gassing out in the fourth quarter when it was on the field for 38:30 of the game's 60 minutes.
Ponder had just 119 yards passing – with 83 of those yards coming in the final four minutes when the Packers were playing a prevent defense and allowing short passes over the middle of the field. To call Ponder's performance brutal isn't understating the case.
"We've got to improve our passing game," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "I sound like broken record, but that's something we want to definitely improve and we'll keep working to improve in time. We wanted to create a little bit more balance for sure, especially the way we were running the ball."
At halftime, Ponder had completed five of eight passes for 36 yards and a touchdown – pedestrian numbers at best, but enough to earn him a passer rating of 112.5. However, after completing three of four passes in the first quarter for 25 yards, his second-quarter numbers were uninspiring – two completions on four attempts for 11 yards and a touchdown.
It was Ponder's third-quarter performance that tilted the game in Green Bay's favor. He attempted five passes and completed two of them. Both were to Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett – one in the end zone and one on the Green Bay 14-yard line. In that span, his passer rating dropped from 112.5 to 32.7.
Ponder's inability to get the ball to his wide receivers was close to being history-making. The last time a team had a game without a completion to a wide receiver was Dec. 8, 2002 when Houston accomplished the dubious feat against Pittsburgh. Ponder didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver until he found Jerome Simpson with 2:48 to play.
The poor play of Ponder negated a monster day from Peterson, who ran for a whopping 210 yards. Since the start of the 2000 season, 59 runners had gained 200 or more yards on the ground. Of those times, their teams won 57 of those games. Thanks to the ineptitude of the passing game, that number dropped from a record of 57-2 to 57-3.
"Tremendous effort by Adrian today and our offensive line opening up holes," Frazier said. "They just did a terrific job. We need to be able to create some balance. We'll keep working on it."
There was plenty of blame that could be assigned to Sunday's loss, but Ponder was front and center for all the wrong reasons in a game that may well have ended the Vikings postseason hopes.
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.
Ponder's poor play front and center
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