According to the local rumor mill, Sunday's game with Chicago was supposed to the launch of Josh Freeman 2.0 with the Vikings. It was thought he would know the playbook by now and that a home game would be the ideal place to get a look at what the Vikings have invested in – short-term and potentially long term.
But those rumor mongers were set straight last Sunday when Leslie Frazier made no bones about who would be his starter – that would be Christian Ponder.
Ponder has experience against the Bears. He's started four games against them, but has won just one of those games. Fortunately, the Bears aren't shy about telling opponents what they're going to do. There isn't a lot of trickery in the Bears defense. They do what they've done successfully for years and don't waste a lot of time with deception and misdirection.
"The good thing about Chicago is that we know what they're going to do," Ponder said. "I've faced them quite a few times. They're very good at what they do, but they don't do a lot of disguising and don't do a lot of looks. It will be a good challenge for us."
One of the best things the Vikings have going for them is that Chicago is missing several key players from those who have been such a significant portion of Bears games past. Brian Urlacher is retired and Charles Tillman, Henry Melton and Lance Briggs are all injured. Prior to this season, if someone was going to point out the top five defensive players on the Bears roster, those four and Julius Peppers would comprise that list. On Sunday, only Peppers will be playing, which Ponder sees as a big advantage for the Vikings offense.
The young replacements are gaining valuable experience, but good NFL teams take advantage of those on the Earn While You Learn plan.
"They have quite a few guys out," Ponder said. "There are some younger guys that are stepping in, but they're still good. They're still sound at what they do. St. Louis laid it on them last week, but we're expecting that they're going to learn from that and those young guys are going to get better each game. It helps that guys like Peanut Tillman, who is such a game-changer, will be out, but we expect it to be a tough game."
As has become a weekly habit, Ponder had to respond to questions about Freeman and his role as the backup (for now) in the minds of most. Ponder has come to grips with the decision. He even joked this week that, when he heard about the trade, he wasn't sure if he was going to show up at Winter Park and see a pink slip in his locker.
Ponder hasn't changed his approach to each week, whether he was starting or not. He views it as his job until it's taken away and, even then, isn't going to let it go without his best effort.
"I think that my mindset hasn't changed," Ponder said. "These last few weeks my expectation was that I was always going to start and I was going to prepare that way. I don't think anything will feel different."
The frustration that has followed Ponder this season has bled over to the entire team. Nobody expected the team to be 2-8-1. Ponder endured the dismal 3-13 season as a rookie and never thought he would experience a year like that again. He admitted this year's team is markedly better than the 2011 squad that struggled and wheezed its way to a franchise-worst record. That's what makes the 2013 season so baffling. With a couple of plays here or there, the Vikings could legitimately be 6-5 instead of 2-8-1, but the team is what it is.
If Ponder keeps playing at a solid level as he did against Green Bay – it wasn't his fault the Vikings went to overtime and tied after having a double-digit fourth-quarter lead – he will keep his job. But the goal for him and the rest of the Vikings is adding numbers to the first column of their record.
"The biggest thing for me is that we have to win games," Ponder said. "I've got to be able to be the guy that is behind center that leads this team to victories. We only have two wins – one under my belt – and a tie. I think I keep getting better and put our team in a successful position and try to win these games."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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.
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