Sunday slant: Vikings' QB reality a sour pill

Leslie Frazier is essentially stuck. He has a starting quarterback he would love to back but has been wildly inconsistent. He has another quarterback everyone else wants to see but might not be ready yet. His choice reflects the reality: He is trying to save his job.

Few could figure it out: Why would the Vikings return to Christian Ponder after his awful fourth-quarter performance the previous week against the Seattle Seahawks?

One reason: Leslie Frazier is trying to save his job, even if it has reached the point of no return. But one reason his job is in jeopardy is because of the quarterback situation.

Outsiders were up in arms at the announcement, remembering how Frazier himself cited after the Seahawks game, when Ponder threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, that even he wasn't sure where Ponder was going with some of his passes. Actually, the intent was obvious; the execution stunk.

"We had some opportunities in the fourth quarter to really put some pressure on their team and it went in a completely different direction with the turnovers," Frazier said the day after Ponder was pulled following a debilitating pick-six.

Even before the fourth quarter, Ponder got lucky that a few of his previous passes weren't intercepted. Eventually, they were. The first came on a weak pass across the middle of the field that was behind Adrian Peterson. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner redeemed himself from a first-half pass he dropped to set up a touchdown that gave the Seahawks a 31-13 lead.

Three plays after that touchdown, Ponder sent a message to the Seattle secondary. Unfortunately, the message was a telegraph that he would be throwing a quick hitch to Cordarrelle Patterson, whether the coverage dictated that or not. Walter Thurmond received the message and pulled the return-to-sender pick for a touchdown to ensure the blowout was recorded properly.

That's been the bane of Ponder. There are moments he looks like a legitimate NFL starter. And then are moments that make everyone wonder what he was thinking or what he what he possibly saw.

The only thing consistent about Ponder's play in the 33 starts he has made has been his inconsistency. Frazier cites Ponder's good game against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 7 as proof that there is hope. Before that, Ponder's supporters repeatedly pointed to his performance against the Green Bay Packers at the end of 2012, when he threw three touchdowns, no interceptions and had a career-high 120.2 passer rating.

"He did some good things, as we all know, in that Washington game after that one pick early. You've just got to regain that," Frazier said. "He got off to a good start against Seattle and struggled a little bit in that fourth. But it's a new ballgame. It's another day, a new opportunity for him."

As Brad Childress said on occasion: "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, it would be Christmas all year long."

The standards should be higher than a few games of good to solid play here and there, and lowering the standards to gloss over throws that should have been intercepted or forgetting about a game-opening fumble only do a disservice to the rest of the team … and the fans. The coaching staff and management shouldn't forget what elite quarterback play looks like. They see it more often against them than for them.

So why won't the team move to Josh Freeman? There, too, they can praise him all they want, but the actions speak louder. In this case, it's the inaction. If they won't replace a guy that has a 74.9 rating on the season and only one out of seven games with a rating above 87, what does it say about the other options when Frazier's repeated explanation is that Ponder gives the team the best chance to win?

It can only be written like an indictment of Freeman.

For the last seven weeks, the quarterback coaches have been spending additional post-practice time with Freeman working on his mechanics – specifically, his footwork – trying to turn him into a more accurate thrower and getting him more comfortable with the offense.

From the time that media is allowed to watch practice, it appears Freeman is making progress, although still not the most accurate of the group. Yet from his one start against the New York Giants, Freeman looked more competent than Ponder with his pocket presence, ball protection and finding open receivers. It was the last portion of each pass play that vexed him – making an accurate throw.

Frazier admitted Freeman still doesn't have a "complete grasp" of the offense since he didn't go through the offseason or training camp with the Vikings. But it is "good enough where if he had to play, he could play," according to Frazier.

Still, his time should come before the end of the season, a possibility that Frazier wisely didn't rule out.

Freeman said there is a lot of guesswork and theories about the Vikings' quarterback situation taking place outside the building, and he wasn't saying any of those theories is right or wrong. In fact, he said he is done trying to figure it out himself.

One widely advanced theory before the Vikings even signed Freeman was that he isn't a hard worker and therefore doesn't always command the respect of teammates. Frazier said Freeman has exceeded expectations in that regard, admitting that the Vikings had received the warning signs.

"In some ways, based on the information that we received, he's exceeded those (expectations)," Frazier said. "He's been all in. He's been a professional in everything we've asked him to do. I like the way he handles himself in the pocket, in the meetings in the locker room. Much better than some things that we had heard."

Freeman said he isn't focused too far into his future. With only a one-year contract, he wants to make the most of his situation in Minnesota before pursuing other options. Frazier simply said there "may" come a time when Freeman gets into a game this season, but "we'll see what happens down the line."

It's clear that the Vikings don't have an "elite" quarterback and they will continue the search. Meanwhile, Frazier lives in his reality, trying to find settle for adequate, which in several instances still hasn't been reached.

"It's not a lot of fun. You'd like to say that this is your quarterback for 16 weeks, but we haven't been in that situation," Frazier said. "You've got to do the things that you think you need to do to help your team be successful. You'd like to put that guy, pencil him into the lineup and say that's the guy."

To date, they have been burning through the graphite and erasers at Winter Park, still unable to erase their reality.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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