Christian Ponder says brutal day in Green Bay was 'a wake-up call'
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Christian Ponder's two interceptions deep in Packers territory proved fatal in the Minnesota Vikings' loss at Green Bay this past weekend.
Now, the second-year quarterback must try to repeat the about-face he pulled last time he set foot on the Metrodome turf in front of a partisan crowd ready to call for a change.
"I'm always critical of myself," Ponder said on Wednesday, "but with such an important game (at Green Bay) and such costly mistakes -- just because of me -- that was very frustrating.
"It was kind of a wake-up call that obviously, I need to be doing some stuff differently and change my game and elevate my play -- especially where we are in the season and with the goals that are in our hands. I've got to make sure that I give our team a chance to be successful and to achieve those goals."
Ponder finished that game 12-of-25 passing (48%) for 119 yards, a touchdown and a 41.9 rating. He has now committed 13 turnovers over his past eight games and completed less than 55% of his passes five times over the past six games, four of them Vikings losses.
No performance was worse than Sunday's, in which Ponder had only five completions in the Vikings' first nine drives and served up two interceptions to Packers safety Morgan Burnett, on an ill-advised second-and-6 throw into the end zone for Michael Jenkins and a first-and-10 cross into traffic for Kyle Rudolph from the Green Bay 25.
The Vikings led 14-10 when Ponder threw the first pick and still were within 20-14 when he threw the second.
"Looking back, the mistakes I made (at Green Bay) were pretty obvious and pretty dumb," Ponder said. "So, it's not that hard to eliminate those dumb mistakes. We still want to be aggressive -- we've just got to be so much smarter and try not to force things. Especially, I think both the turnovers came either on first or second down.
"We want to be smart and not have to make a perfect throw on first and second down and being patient and taking those checkdowns. It just goes back to being a lot more patient and not trying to make the perfect throw, because it's not on me (to win the game)."
Coach Leslie Frazier quickly announced after the game Ponder would remain the starting quarterback, though he left open the possibility on Monday of giving backup Joe Webb a shot if Ponder's play doesn't improve.
Ponder found himself in a similar situation last month, coming off poor performances in losses to Tampa Bay and at Seattle. He responded by completing 24 of 32 passes (75%) for 221 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Detroit on Nov. 11 at the Metrodome.
"We're still in that process where we see some things where (Ponder)'s definitely gotten better from a season ago," Frazier said. "We saw it throughout the offseason. We've seen it during the season. There's still some areas where we know he has to improve, he knows he has to improve, and his clock is still ticking on his improvement and development.
"That's part of evaluating the quarterback position, but we are not at a point where we want to throw in the towel on Christian Ponder. He's going to get better, and he's going to play better this Sunday. I really believe that, and in turn, the rest of our team has to complement our quarterback."
A first-round draft pick (12th overall) out of Florida State in 2011, Ponder now has appeared in 23 NFL games with 22 starts, completing 59% of his passes (398-of-675) for 4,158 yards, 27 touchdowns, 24 interceptions and a 75.4 rating.
His 24th game will come against a Bears defense that held him to 23-of-43 passing (51.2%) for 159 yards, a touchdown and an interception on Nov. 25 at Chicago with help from six drops by the Vikings' receivers and tight ends.
"I think (Ponder) does a better job at times with his decision-making, much better than his rookie season," Frazier said. "He does a better job on movement passes than he did his rookie season. The thing that Christian has to continue to work on is the consistency -- being consistently good.
"When you can see him throw a dagger route right on time to a Devin Aromashodu in a critical situation (in a comeback win against Jacksonville in the Sept. 9 opener), you'd like to just see that consistently build as the year goes on. And that's what we've got to continue to work on with him.
"Whether it be footwork, whether it be delivery, whether it be getting the football out on time -- just the consistency at the position is a big deal, and consistently making good decisions with the football. That's the area that we all want to see him improve in, and hopefully, this will be a week where he takes that step."
Halfback Adrian Peterson, among others, made a point of encouraging Ponder at his locker after the loss to the Packers.
Receiver Jerome Simpson also came to Ponder's defense on Wednesday, suggesting fans and reporters are being too hard on him at an early stage in his career.
"He is a tough guy, man," Simpson said. "A lot of this added pressure put on him shouldn't be. A lot of criticism put on him shouldn't be. We all make mistakes. I guess that is the nature of being a quarterback, but a lot of this pressure stuff put on him shouldn't be, because that guy is trying his heart out."