Confident Christian Ponder relaxed and ready to make postseason debut
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Christian Ponder approached the podium inside the Winter Park field house on Tuesday for his weekly press conference, leaned into the microphone and did his best Jim Mora impersonation.
"Playoffs!" Ponder said with mock outrage, contorting his face a bit just as Mora did during his 2001 rant after his Indianapolis Colts had lost to San Francisco to drop to 4-6 on the season.
"Was it executed well? Was it good?" a smiling Ponder asked the assembled media.
If the second-year quarterback is feeling any nerves as he prepares to play in his first postseason game on Saturday night, he isn't showing it. Ponder seemed relaxed and full of confidence on Tuesday as he prepared to return to the venue where he might have had his toughest game in a roller-coaster year.
Ponder completed 12 of 25 passes for 119 yards with a touchdown and two crucial interceptions en route to posting a terrible 41.9 passer rating in the Vikings' 23-14 loss on Dec. 2 at Green Bay.
That was the type of game that might have caused a Mora-like meltdown, given that the Vikings had lost two in a row coming out of their bye week and were 6-6 at that point.
Last Sunday, Ponder helped lead the Vikings to their fourth consecutive victory since that loss by completing 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards with three touchdowns and no picks in a 37-34 victory over the Packers that was secured with a Blair Walsh field goal as time expired. The win put the Vikings in the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season.
Ponder's passer rating this time around was 120.2, the best he has posted in 26 career starts. He has not thrown an interception in the past three games.
"When your quarterback plays as well as he plays, and as you mentioned in arguably the biggest game of our season because of what was at stake, it's very encouraging," said Frazier, whose Vikings will face the Packers for the third time this season in a first-round playoff game at Lambeau Field. "But the thing about our business, as you know, you've got to continue to put good games together.
"You can't rest on your laurels in our business. This next game is actually bigger than the one we just had because now we're in the playoffs. The stakes will continue to get a little bit higher as we go along and you want to keep playing better. You don't want to say, 'That was my best game' and peak at that point. You want to get better. We need to get better as a team."
Having a quarterback playing with confidence, however, is key, especially when a month ago Ponder seemed to be at rock bottom when it came to how he felt about his play.
"I don't think my confidence ever really was shaken or anything," he said. "I think it just goes back to obviously understanding what I can and can't do. I can't force things that aren't there. Understanding the decision that I'm making. It had nothing really to do with confidence."
Not everyone might agree with that.
In the visiting locker room on Dec. 2 at Lambeau, Frazier and a few of Ponder's veteran teammates, including star running back Adrian Peterson, made their way to his locker stall to tell him to keep his head up and remind him that they would need him to rebound if the Vikings' hopes of the getting into the playoffs were going to remain alive.
Frazier's message went beyond telling Ponder to hang in there. It also served as notice that Ponder was going to remain the Vikings' starting quarterback no matter how many calls came for backup Joe Webb to replace him.
"I talked to him in the locker room after the game because I anticipated it," Frazier said. "There will be a lot of criticism, a lot of second-guessing from a lot of different places and I wanted him to know that before he went to that press conference, 'I don't want you to walk in there with any doubt about your future here as our starting quarterback. Next ball game you're going to be our starter. There's some things we've got to work on leading up to that game.'
"I think the Chicago game was the next one, and I just wanted him to be assured that we would get through this. 'We have some work to do. You're going to be the guy and you've got to handle some things.' And he has, he's done a great job."
Ponder said it was "big" to hear Frazier give him such an assurance at a tough time.
"I never wanted to lose hope that I was or wasn't the guy," he said. "For him and Adrian to come up and say what they said and be supportive of me, obviously that was important. It definitely helped. It was a tough situation and I was very hard on myself, so it was good to hear."