After throwing three interceptions in a 34-24 loss to the Detroit Lions in the season opener, Ponder started slowed once again in Chicago but eventually recovered from a bad mistake and gave the Minnesota Vikings a chance late in the game.
Ponder finished the game completing 16 of 30 passes for 227 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 75.3 rating in the Vikings' 31-30 loss. However, his first-half performance looked like it was putting his hold on the starting job further onto the hot seat.
In the first half, he completed 6 of 14, but threw a bad interception intended for Jerome Simpson. Instead, cornerback Tim Jennings stepped in front of the pass and returned it 44 yards for a second-quarter touchdown and a 21-14 Chicago lead.
"I definitely watched him the whole way. It looked like he was watching me the whole way," Jennings said. "He let it rip and I was able to get a good break on the surface we had today. I was able to make a play and take it in for the score."
It was the kind of play that has marred Ponder's first 28 starts in the NFL. At times, like he showed in the second half, there is promise that he is making progress. At other times, like his stare-down with Jennings, he befuddles observers.
"Pick six is never good. That's a terrible play. Obviously if you take away seven points it's a different ball game for us," Ponder said. "I understand that I have to play better. I have to play four quarters of football, limit those mistakes and there's a lot more that I can do in playing better and help this team be successful."
But there were also the glimmers of hope.
Once again, Jerome Simpson had the biggest gain in the passing game with a 37-yard catch in the third quarter – on third-and-7. Only this time Simpson shared the long reception of the game with Greg Jennings, whose 37-yarder in the fourth quarter also came on third down.
Ponder also had a 22-yarder and an 18-yarder to Jennings, as well as a 14-yarder to Kyle Rudolph – all on third downs.
"He just really took charge after the interception for a touchdown. He didn't waver," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "Stayed strong, stayed committed to playing good, clean football. I'm really proud of the way he bounced back. He made some big-time throws for us and gave us a chance. He really did. Did a great job."
The one that may have hurt most, however, was a late missed opportunity. With a 27-24 lead, the Vikings had second-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Ponder rolled out right but overthrew Rudolph at the goal line with a defender trailing closely.
On one hand, Ponder didn't give the defender a chance at the interception. On the other hand, the ball sailed just enough that Rudolph couldn't get it, either.
"They were playing man to man and Kyle is obviously a big body so I tried to put it up on the top shelf, but the ball just kind of carried to the right," Ponder said. "I think we knew we needed to score seven there."
When Ponder threw his second-quarter interception, he was 4-for-12 for 52 yards, an interception and a sack. After that, he was 12-for-18 for 175 yards, no interceptions, no sacks and one touchdown.
"My respect level has gone up tremendously for Ponder. He did some great things out there," Bears CB Charles Tillman said. "He made plays with his feet."
Ponder's first NFL action came against the Bears in 2011 when he relieved a benched Donovan McNabb and had only 99 yards passing. In the season finale against the Bears that year, Ponder was only 4-for-10 for 28 yards before Joe Webb relieved him.
Last year, Ponder was 22-for-43 for 159 yards at Chicago, and 11-for-17 for 91 yards against Chicago at the Metrodome. So completing more than 50 percent of his passes for 227 yards and a 75.3 rating was at least progress against a Chicago defense that usually gives the Vikings problems.
"We kind of knew what to expect from him. He's more dangerous outside the pocket and making plays with his feet, making throws on the run," Jennings said. "We knew that coming in. He was able to do that. He managed the game well. He made some reads down the field, made some throws down the field. His players made some plays for him. He's a young quarterback but he's getting better each and every year."
Each team had two fumbles and lost them both.
For the Vikings, Adrian Peterson fumbled when he hit the back side of John Carlson while being tackled, and Carlson fumbled the Vikings' final kickoff return.
The Bears' fumbles came when Jared Allen sacked and stripped Jay Cutler of the ball. Brian Robison recovered that one and returned it 61 yards for a second-quarter touchdown.
Letroy Guion had what could have been a game-saving play when he took the ball away from RB Matt Forte in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings settled for only three points there and the Bears responded with their game-winning drive.
Ponder threw one interception while Cutler had two, giving the Vikings a plus-1 advantage on the road that they couldn't convert to a win.
"Statistically, when you're … plus-2, there's about any 80 percent chance of winning the game," Bears CB Charles Tillman said. "We showed adversity today. One of the hardest games I've played in."
"One thing I did notice was I was a little hesitant today. I wasn't really sticking it up in there. I kind of felt that way. I can't do that," he said. "I need to come and press these guys. I need to force those guys to tackle me. A couple plays I didn't do that. Who knows what could've happened. I (have) to do a lot of soul-searching and come back better than I was."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.