Holler: National TV Nightmare at QB Again

It was a bit of bad déjá vu for the Vikings on national TV. For the second season in a row, their third-string quarterback turned in a clunker in front of the nation.

Third time’s a charm.

In many aspects of life, that mantra makes sense. In the NFL, not so much.

In what was something of an eerie similarity, the Vikings started their third quarterback of the season on national TV for the second straight year. Last year, it was Josh Freeman in a Monday night game against the Giants, a game in which the bar on quarterback play was lowered to new extremes. Freeman missed pass after pass in a hideous performance that left Vikings fans slack-jawed by how poor a performance from a quarterback could be.

A little less than 11 months later, NFL fans were asking themselves the same question – how can Minnesota’s quarterback situation be so bad?

Last season, Christian Ponder entered the regular season as the unquestioned starter. After stinking out the joint in his first three starts, an injury allowed Matt Cassel into action and he gave the team a breath of fresh air with his performance outdoors in London that provided some hope that all wasn’t lost. But when he suffered an injury, the Vikings opted to go with Freeman, who was No. 3 on the depth chart when he arrived.

Eleven months later, Cassel had entered the season as the unquestioned starter, but an injury forced him to the sidelines and Teddy Bridgewater came in and provided Vikings fans with hope that there was a better answer at the position coming off a strong performance against Atlanta. Then an injury sidelined him and the Vikings were forced to move on to their third quarterback – Ponder.

Like Freeman, Ponder’s performance Thursday night was as dismal as any seen since that awful night in New Jersey when Freeman couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, or at the small side of one, much less put a pass on the hands of one of his receivers.

In Freeman’s case, it was the last time he would throw a pass in a Vikings uniform. You get the same sensation with Ponder, that his brutal performance against the Packers may well be the last time No. 7 throws a pass as a member of the Vikings, at least as long as Bridgewater remains healthy after returning to action Oct. 12 against the Detroit Lions.

It was clear during the preseason that the fans have moved on. From training camp on, chants of “Teddy! Teddy!” were loudly vocalized for the coaching staff and management to hear. When Ponder entered a preseason game at TCF Bank Stadium, he was resoundingly booed by fans who had seen the future and wanted it to become the present.

Much like the announcement that Freeman was going to get the start last year as the Vikings geared up to play the Giants, when word came down Thursday afternoon that Bridgewater was going to be inactive and Ponder was going to start, a sense of dread set in. Fans had seen the Ponder Show before and weren’t fans. As the night went on, that dread became a waking nightmare.

Just as with Freeman last year, a strong showing by Ponder could have changed his position with the team considerably. He could have gone from zero to hero with a much-needed win. Instead, both of them made a bad situation positively hideous by showing on a national stage why neither of them were NFL starters.

In the case of Freeman, it marked the beginning of the end of his tenure as a Vikings quarterback. Observers get the same feeling with Ponder. He had a chance to prove to his skeptics that he still had what it took to put an offense on his shoulders and carry the team to victory. Instead, he was the lighter fluid that helped turn a deficit into a blowout in the second quarter.

Even Ponder apologists had to shake their heads at the latest stage of his degeneration as an NFL quarterback. He was given his chance and shot himself in the foot. While not all his fault, he helped get the snowball running downhill and growing.

In the case of Freeman, his nationally televised on-field meltdown was the last time Vikings fans had to endure watching him taking snaps as the Vikings starting quarterback. You get the same feeling that we have probably seen the last of Ponder as a starter in a Vikings uniform unless injury forces it on them again.

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