For Christian Ponder, there is no place like Metrodome.
After two games on the road – both losing efforts to NFC North rivals – the Minnesota Vikings and their embattled quarterback return to the more familiar and comfortable surroundings of Mall of America Field at the Metrodome.
"Coming home, playing at Mall of America Field, our guys are excited about it. I'm excited," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "I think we have the best fans in the National Football League and it's going to be great to line up in front of our fans at home. It's still early in the season, but at the same time this is a very, very important football game for us."
The Vikings are teetering on the edge of playoff extinction already. Only 11.8 percent of teams that started 0-2 since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990 have made the postseason.
As expected, Ponder's performances have been decidedly better at home than on the road.
He is 12-17 overall as a starter with a 59 completion percentage, 33 touchdowns, 29 interceptions and a 76.4 rating.
The differences between home and road games, however, are fairly stark.
Ponder has a winning record (7-6) at home and losing on the road (5-11). His completion percentage is actually slightly better on the road (59.3) than at home (58.8), but his passer rating is better at home (80.1) than on the road (73.2), as are his yards per attempt (6.7 vs. 5.98) and his yards per game (195.4 vs. 169.4).
"We're going to use this home-field advantage to the best of what we can do. It's a huge advantage for us; our fans get so loud," Ponder said. "As an offense that's played two games on the road in pretty loud places, it gets hard to operate. We're excited for that and we look to improve our record. We want to be, in the first quarter (of the season), to be even, to be 2-2. But it starts with Cleveland; we're solely focused on Cleveland now."
The Vikings aren't the only team to start the season with two road games, but they are the only one with both of them being losses. The Miami Dolphins aare 2-0 on the road and the Tennessee Titans are 1-1.
"The fact that we're playing at home, that means a lot to our players. It's our home opener and we know the importance of winning games at home," Frazier said. "That's what we talked about (Wednesday) morning; they sense that. They also know the fact that there is a game or two separating everybody in our conference right now. So this is a great opportunity for us at home to get on track, get on a winning track. … You've got to take care of business at home."
The main reason Ponder's rating is better at home is the touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. At home, he has 20 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. On the road, he has 13 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Keep in mind he has more road games (16) than home (13), so he is averaging more than a half touchdown more at home – 1.53 at home and .81 on the road.
Ponder said he has learned to rebound quicker from his interceptions since his days of quarterbacking in high school, college and even his rookie season in the NFL.
Last week, he threw a second-quarter interception along the right sideline that he labeled a "terrible" play. Bears CB Tim Jennings stepped in front of the pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown.
Ponder finished the first half completing 6 of 14 passes for 81 yards, one sack, one touchdown and one interception at a 56.0 rating. In the second half, he completed 10 of 16 passes for 146 yards, no sacks, touchdowns or interceptions and a 92.2 rating.
"My mindset is, ‘Hey, I've got to change it for this team, for this offense to have a chance,'" Ponder said of entering halftime with that interception in the background. "I think in prior instances, like in high school or college, I let interceptions affect me – even my rookie year here. But now I've found that I need to move on. I can't let it affect me because it's going to negatively affect our offense and we're not going to have as good of a chance to win the ballgame."
Frazier had a quick sideline chat with Ponder after that interception, but Ponder said his talk with Frazier didn't enter his mindset for the second half.
"Even though you could write a column about a guy's performance, I could say things to him about his performance, but at the end of the day he's got to recognize some of those things too and say, ‘You know what? I can do this a little bit better.' And to Christian's credit, he played much better in the second half," Frazier said.
"I think a lot of athletes, they're so competitive that when their backs are against the wall, sometimes those guys kind of want to show you that I can do this. You don't like to be playing with your back against the wall a lot but that happens with a lot of real good athletes. They sometimes get pushed and then they want to push back. He has had some moments where he's struggled and then bounced back and played well. Sunday was an example of that."
The Vikings' collective and clichéd backs are all up against a wall this week. They're 0-2, despite having the 20th-ranked offense, including the 10th-ranked rushing attack and 20th-ranked passing game in the NFL.
"We are working as hard as we can to be a team that's going to be a factor over the course of the year," Frazier said. "We need to get off to a good start at home. Our players realize that. We know the importance this week on our preparation and you have to take care of your home field."
No player will be more closely watched than Ponder … on his home turf.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.
Ponder returning home, where he's been best
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