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published Monday, January 2nd - 7:00am


JOE WEBB did everyone a favor with his lousy second-half performance in Sunday's hard-to-achieve, 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears in the Metrodome.

If Webb had shown a modest degree of competence, this would have been an offseason for the Purple loyalists to shout that the second-year player from Alabama-Birmingham should be taken seriously as a candidate to be the Vikings' starting quarterback in 2012.

Instead, the Bears did a touch of in-game adjustment for Webb at halftime, blitzed him, kept him in the pocket and turned him into a sinkerball-throwing mess in what became a scoreless second half for the Vikings.

There was a botched field goal that with 5 minutes left, but that happened after Webb's worst moments of his afternoon:

Cedric Griffin, off the coaching staff's no-play list, intercepted a Josh McCown pass to set up the Vikings at the 20. The Vikings drove 3 yards backwards when Webb missed two passes and suffered a sack.

Webb finished 10 for 21 for 115 yards and two interceptions in the second half. Eight of the 10 completions were short, easy throws, including five completions for 40 yards as the Bears permitted underneath tosses on the Vikings' last possession.

Overall, Webb was so inaccurate and so rattled that only the goofiest of Vikings followers will be raising the "We Want Joe'' clamor in the offseason. You can't throw the ball as inaccurately as does Webb on routine throws and be more than a backup in the modern NFL.

CHRISTIAN PONDER was unimpressive early, as he has been through most of the second half of the schedule, and then left when he landed hard on a sore hip. He also threw an interception, giving the Vikings' QBs three for the day. Ponder threw 13 interceptions in 291 attempts in his rookie season - several with his inattentiveness in throwing outs to the sideline.

He finished with a quarterback efficiency rating of 70.1, putting him below the Tebow Line of 72.1, which is the equivalent of the Mendoza Line for hitters in baseball.

Ponder's fundamental skills for having a chance to be an NFL quarterback still are there. For one thing, he can make a good share of the throws without sinking the ball into the turf, Webb/Tebow style.

Trouble is, there was a conviction by most observers a couple of months ago that Ponder offered a solid future at QB for the Vikings, and now you're left with the thought that "OK'' might be his upside.

Most baseball scouts evaluate a player's talents (and thus potential) on a 2 to 8 scale - 2 being non-player, 4-being average, 5- above average, and 8-outstanding. Right now, I'd put Ponder's evaluation at 4.5.

JARED ALLEN'S pursuit of the NFL record for sacks turned maniacal several weeks ago, when he was spotted taking great circle routes to get to the quarterback, and opponents kept sending ball carriers into the gap he had exposed.

He was starting to look like Lance Johnstone, a former Vikings' pass rusher known for his fondness for taking the outside route to the quarterback.

Allen seemed to return to mixing up his rush over the past month - actually making a read to see if it might be a run to his side before going hell-bent after the quarterback.

Then came Sunday, when it was about sacks, the record and nothing else for Allen.

There was a comical moment in the Allen chase of Michael Strahan's record in the closing minutes. It was clear the Bears were going to run the ball, then kick it back to Minnesota's futile offense and assume another stop by their defense.

McCown was under center, retreated to his right to hand the ball to Kahlil Bell, and then kept drifting away. Bell had the ball and was stepping into the line, and there was Allen, still going after McCown, in a deranged hope that the quarterback still had the ball.

Allen had a great pass-rushing season, no question. It was also apparent he had one thought entering Sunday's game - and it wasn't beating the Bears.

MINNESOTANS will be watching the NHL's outdoor hockey game in fair numbers today, if previous TV ratings hold true. They will do so, even though it is one of 1,230 regular-season games on the NHL schedule, and Philadelphia-Boston presents no local angle, best I can tell.

Phil Kessel's in Toronto now, not Boston, right?

It's another game, often on bad ice, but you go ahead ... tell the fellow puckheads what a great time you're having. I'll be watching Bucky Badger in the Rose Bowl.

Then again, I'd be watching the Ticket City Bowl, if that was the competition for a hockey game that represents .0008 of the NHL schedule.

BULLETIN: Just been informed its Flyers-Rangers, not Flyers-Bruins, in outdoor game - and Rangers alleged to have several Minnesotans. Which means, I'll still be watching the Rose Bowl, which should be quite a shootout with Russ Wilson and Montee Ball against fastest offense in college football.