Christian Ponder responding 'extremely well' to challenges, coach says
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- If the Minnesota Vikings have any designs on making a quarterback change after the season, coach Leslie Frazier says he hasn't been in on the discussions.
Christian Ponder's upswing over the past three games has helped the Vikings get to 9-6, with a playoff spot hanging in the balance on Sunday against the Packers.
"He's our quarterback," Frazier said during a Wednesday morning interview on 1500 ESPN. "I don't know any scenario that's going to come up to say, 'You know what? We need to be looking for a replacement for Christian in the offseason.' Our focus right now is making sure we get him ready and the rest of our team ready for this Green Bay game."
Later, in a media conference at Winter Park, Frazier praised Ponder's growth as a quarterback since his two interceptions helped send the Vikings to a 23-14 defeat against the Packers at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2 -- the low point in his young career.
"He's gone through some challenges over the course of this season, and he responded extremely well over the last few weeks," Frazier said. "It was a tough day in a lot of ways in our first game against Green Bay. He bounced back from that with a very efficient game against Chicago, and he's continued that progression right on through."
Ponder was among the NFL's most accurate passers the season's first month, completing 84 of 123 passes (68.3%) for 824 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Then came an eight-game stretch in which Ponder committed 13 turnovers, throwing at least one interception in all but one game, and twice threw for 63 yards or fewer.
The low point was the loss to the Packers, after which Frazier, halfback Adrian Peterson and other Vikings veterans made a point of showing support for Ponder in the locker room.
"I have great teammates and a great support staff with Coach Frazier and the rest of the coaches," Ponder said. "I think it's very important knowing that those guys have your back and that they're not separating you from the team."
Since that game, Ponder is 44-of-71 passing (62%) for 396 yards, a touchdown and an interception, plus 54 yards and a touchdown rushing in three games, all Vikings wins.
The Vikings still rank 32nd in the NFL in passing yards and lean heavily on the league's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson. But with Peterson held to 86 yards on 25 carries on Sunday at Houston, Ponder converted seven third downs in a 23-6 Vikings win.
"The passing game is what we rely on maybe on third downs and some first- and second-down shots and short throws and stuff," Ponder said. "But just how the running game's going, it's kind of how this offense has developed and it's working that way. "
Never wavering publicly in his commitment to Ponder as the starter, Frazier repeatedly has emphasized the rest of the offense and the coaches needed to help the quarterback exit his slump.
"We worked on some things from that Green Bay game that we wanted to improve on and we've seen some improvement in his play," Frazier said. "It's just a combination of what our coaches are doing with him and what he's doing -- but also the guys around him.
"It's a collective effort. Our receivers are doing a better job in some of the things they're doing, Christian obviously is doing a better job, our pass pro is a little bit better and what we're doing schematically has helped us well."
The 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Florida State, Ponder replaced Donovan McNabb as the Vikings' quarterback in the seven season of his rookie year and has made 25 consecutive starts since.
Ponder's overall numbers this season (62.4% passing, 2,701 yards, 15 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 78.8 rating) are improved in most categories except yards per attempt, which has dropped to 5.9 from 6.4 last season.
Asked to evaluate his body of work in his first full season as the starter, Ponder said, "The biggest focus is this week. I guess after the season, we'll be able to sit down and look back, hopefully with a Super Bowl ring on our fingers, and think about the season. But I haven't really thought too much about it."
The Vikings will discuss Ponder along with every other player on the roster during meetings between the team's coaches and scouts the week after the season ends.
The way Ponder plays in Sunday's rematch with the Packers -- and in a potential playoff run -- after that will be fresh in everyone's heads.
"The best thing he can do is lead us to a win," Frazier said. "That would be huge for our football team. Just do a great job at the quarterback position like he's done over the last few weeks and for the most part through the season. That would be terrific."