Efficient Christian Ponder keeps Vikings offense on productive track
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings' starting offense was productive again on Friday night.
This time, they got one into the end zone, too.
Ponder was 10-of-13 passing for 136 yards and a touchdown in three drives that all put the Vikings in scoring range in the first half of their exhibition against Buffalo.
That included four explosive pass plays that gained 19 yards or more, highlighted by Jerome Simpson's hurdle of Bills safety Jairus Byrd on a slant that went for 33 yards and a jump ball Michael Jenkins hauled in for 35 yards over cornerback Aaron Williams.
"My job's easy right now," Ponder said. "When guys like Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson make a 4-yard catch and turn it into a 50-yard gain, it's unbelievable. The offensive line is doing such a great job and we're spreading the ball around like crazy and we're making plays and I think I'm very excited where we are right now after this game."
Ponder completed all three of his passes on the opening drive -- a bubble screen Harvin took for 21 yards, the slant to Simpson for 33 and a 1-yard touchdown throw to fullback Jerome Felton.
"It's very encouraging to see the way Christian and the rest of our offense is executing," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We've talked about it throughout the week, being able to finish drives with touchdowns, and we came out on that opening drive and did exactly that.
"When you talk about it and then you go out and do it, as a coach, it makes you feel pretty good about the guys paying attention to what we're trying to accomplish. Seeing Jerome Simpson, seeing Percy, seeing our offensive line come together and play as well as they are is very encouraging."
Ponder's efficiency, along with a 16-yard run by Toby Gerhart, helped the Vikings climb out of the holes on that first drive dug by two sacks that left the Vikings facing second-and-13 and second-and-18 respectively.
"Christian, he did an awesome job," Simpson said. "He was so poised, and I was so proud of him. He just took leaps and bounds and he is just becoming to be one of those elite quarterbacks and I (saw) that (Friday)."
That performance followed two drives by the starters in last week's exhibition opener at San Francisco that gave the Vikings field goals.
"Everyone's just so much more comfortable and confident in what they're doing," Ponder said. "... I know where I want to go with the ball pre-snap. And the receivers are doing a great job of getting open. The o-line's doing a great job where I can get to that third or fourth read. Things are just going well."
After the touchdown on Friday, a Buffalo punt gave the Vikings possession at their 46-yard line and they went right down the field again, with the biggest play a 19-yard catch and run by Gerhart.
They had second-and-goal from the Buffalo 4 before the drive stalled. Ponder couldn't put a throw on target to Kyle Rudolph going to the corner with a man in his face and then overthrew Simpson on a fade, leaving the Vikings with a 22-yard Blair Walsh field goal.
"(Rudolph) was open and we had another guy open in the flat," Ponder said, referring to the second-down play. "They went Cover-0 and I kind of got the ball off probably a little too early and just made a bad pass. That's the one play I wish I would have had back. We definitely should have a touchdown on that drive."
Simpson, Harvin, Rudolph and Gerhart all sat out the starters' third and final possession -- the only one of five Ponder has led in the preseason that failed to generate points.
Michael Jenkins' 35-yard catch up the right sideline erased a Brandon Fusco holding penalty. But a 2-yard Ponder scramble, a run by Lex Hilliard for no gain and a checkdown pass to Hilliard for 2 yards left the Vikings with a 49-yard Walsh field goal attempt that missed wide right.
"We have a lot of work to do," Frazier said. "We know that. But we've just got to keep putting together good practices and then carrying it over to games."