Vikings: A tale of two Ponder performances

Christian Ponder's numbers didn't look all that bad, but he didn't start having success until he faced San Francisco's second-team defense. We break down the numbers before and after the 49ers made their defensive substitutions.

There are times when the numbers don't come close to telling the story of a player's performance. Despite having a surrounding cast that includes league MVP Adrian Peterson, there seems to be no doubting that the topic of discussion among fans and media alike is whether Christian Ponder can lead the Vikings to a deep playoff run that will culminate in a Super Bowl championship coming to Minnesota.

If one only looked at the final numbers, they would ask who had the better game – Ponder or Colin Kaepernick. Ponder completed 17 of 23 passes for 116 yards with two touchdowns and one interception (which wasn't his fault), while Kaepernick completed 7 of 13 passes for 72 yards and one TD. But the numbers don't always tell the full story.

The 49ers made a point to get most of their starters on both sides of the ball off the field in the first quarter of the game, whereas the Vikings took the standard approach to the third preseason game – keeping the majority of their starters in for the entire first half and one drive into the second half after making adjustments in the locker room.

Ponder's numbers were grossly inflated by the backups that were playing for the San Francisco defense. In his only long-term preseason outing of the season, Ponder struggled badly against the 49ers defensive players that would have been on the field for the entire game had Sunday night's game occurred in the regular season.

In three drives against the first-team San Francisco defense, the Vikings ran just nine offensive plays. The first drive of the game ended when Ponder was stripped in the pocket by Ahmad Brooks and the fumble was recovered on the Vikings 11-yard line by Aldon Smith. The other two drives were three-and-outs that forced the Vikings defense back on the field.

The length of the first three Ponder-led drives were 1:03, 1:30 and 1:48. In that span, Ponder completed three of five passes for just nine yards. By the time he took the field for his fourth drive as San Francisco began calling off the (top) dogs, the Vikings trailed 10-0.

Head coach Leslie Frazier tried to find the positive in talking about a 12-play drive to start the second half that culminated with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Ponder to Joe Webb.

"I was really encouraged when we put that drive together coming out of the half. That was important," Frazier said. "We got some rhythm going, put together some first downs. A 12-play drive, we needed that. I think we can build on that. We had sputtered for a while throughout the first half."

There is no debating that everyone, from the fans to the local media to the national media, are all in agreement that the Vikings success in 2013 hinges as much on Ponder's performance as it does on Peterson. Sunday night did nothing to ease those fears or concerns.

If anything, it may have thrown more gasoline on the fire for those who aren't convinced he can be the man who leads the Vikings offense moving forward.

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.

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