Christian Ponder, passing offense continue to struggle in defeat
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Christian Ponder said all the right things this week about putting his subpar performance against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday behind him.
But while the second-year quarterback talked a good game, the problem was he didn't play one in the Minnesota Vikings' 36-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night at the Metrodome.
Ponder failed to complete his first five pass attempts as the Vikings went three-and-out in their opening three series in the first quarter. The Vikings trailed 10-0 after that quarter.
"He, along with the rest of the team, has to play better," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after watching his team fall to 5-3 in a mistake-filled game. "Christian, along with a lot of our team, we have to go back and look at what we're doing and try to get better. This is not winning football on any circumstance in the NFL."
Ponder finished 19 of 35 for 251 yards with a touchdown and an interception and a passer rating of 74.8. That performance came against a Buccaneers pass defense that ranked second-to-last in the NFL entering Thursday, giving up an average of 323 yards per game.
Last Sunday in the Vikings' 21-14 victory over Arizona, Ponder was eight of 17 for 58 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and a feeble 35.5 passer rating.
"I think I definitely have to play better," Ponder said. "I don't think I'm playing as well as I should, or can. Defenses are always going to be scheming against us. We have to make adjustments and we will make adjustments. Coach (Bill) Musgrave comes up with a great game plan. We just have to play better. It comes down to me. I have to play better. I think that's obvious to everyone."
Ponder's longest completion on Thursday was a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Jerome Simpson, whom the Vikings want to stretch the field. Simpson, who has been dealing with a back issue that causes weakness in his leg, was the target of seven passes and caught two of them for 37 yards.
Percy Harvin led the Vikings with seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.
But the Vikings passing game never seemed to get into sync.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who had 25 receptions and five touchdowns in the first six games, was held to only two catches for 17 yards after not having a reception against the Cardinals.
"Our passing game has to improve," Frazier said. "It's hard to just continue to pound it. There are games where you're going to need to throw it. We did a good job of running the ball on occasion, but there are times you need to complete some balls down the field. We tried on a number of different occasions and we didn't connect. We need to connect at times."
Frazier didn't need to tell this to the Metrodome crowd. They grew restless as Ponder and the passing game came up short too many times.
So is Ponder pressing too much?
"I don't think I tried to do too much," he said. "I thought I did a better job of getting out of the pocket and trying to get the ball down the field (on Thursday). We just have to continue to progress from week to week. That's our biggest goal. As an offense, we have to keep the running the ball well and take advantage of the passing game.
"It's a learning opportunity after this game. It's a frustrating loss and obviously there are a lot of things we need to get better at."