Coach no longer dismissing possibility of benching Christian Ponder
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Are the Minnesota Vikings giving consideration to benching struggling quarterback Christian Ponder?
After a season of making it clear the Vikings would not replace Ponder with backup Joe Webb, coach Leslie Frazier seemed to leave the door open ever so slightly for a change to be made a day after the Vikings' 23-14 loss at Green Bay.
"If things get to a point where your number one (quarterback) is really costing you some situations that could preclude winning you do have to do what's best for the football team," Frazier said Monday. "That's always the case, it's always about what's best for the team.
"Up to this point, I felt it's been best for our team that Christian remains our number one quarterback. I still feel that way. But every position you need those guys to continue to progress and continue to improve. He knows that as well as every position on our team."
Frazier reiterated he did not consider pulling Ponder from Sunday's game, despite the fact the second-year quarterback had five completions until late in the fourth quarter.
All of those came on a drive that ended early in the second quarter with a 7-yard touchdown catch by tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph caught four passes during the drive and fullback Jerome Felton had the other reception.
Ponder finished 12 of 25 for 119 yards with a touchdown and two extremely costly interceptions, including one on a poorly thrown pass into the end zone for Michael Jenkins in the third quarter.
The Vikings were at the Packers' 8-yard line at that point and had an opportunity to build on a 14-10 lead. Instead, Green Bay took the turnover and drove to the Vikings' 29, where Mason Crosby kicked a 47-yard field goal.
That helped shift the momentum of the game.
The Vikings have lost four of their past five games, including back-to-back losses at Chicago and Green Bay, since a 5-2 start. Ponder posted passer ratings of more than 100 in his first two games this season and did not have a rating worse than 71.2 in his first six games.
But in the past six games, Ponder has had ratings of 35.5 (Arizona), 74.8 (Tampa Bay), 37.3 (Seattle), 114.2 (Detroit), 58.2 (Chicago) and 41.9 (Green Bay).
Ponder, the 12th pick in the 2011 draft, also did not throw an interception in the first four games, but since then has thrown 11 interceptions and 10 touchdowns.
The Vikings (6-6) are at .500 for the first time since Week 2 of the season and will face the Bears on Sunday at the Metrodome.
Asked what it would take for Ponder to be benched, Frazier said: "This is a performance-based business. So performance matters. It's a process though. From my vantage point I always have to consider where Christian is in his development and what the expectations are for him. He knows what those expectations are.
"We'll continue to monitor his development and how he's progressing. But it's an on-going process. He's in his second season. He's made some progress along the way. He's had some moments where we all would agree he has to play better. We're looking for that to happen over the course of this week leading up to this next ballgame."
Part of the issue here is the Vikings wanted to spend 2012 judging Ponder to see whether he could be their quarterback of the future. No veteran backup was kept on the roster likely because the Vikings did not want Ponder looking over his shoulder each time he struggled.
While the case could be made that Ponder might benefit from being able to watch things from the sideline, Frazier acknowledged the fact that the organization wants to continue the evaluation process and that can't be done if Ponder is holding a clipboard.
"I don't know if at this stage that would be the best thing," Frazier said. "He needs to play, and not only for experience but for our continuing to evaluate where he is as a quarterback in his second season. I don't know if it's the wise thing for him to do, to have him sit and watch.
"What he would learn from Joe, I don't know what that would be right now. He needs to be out there playing and playing well for our football team and he will. I have complete confidence that he will have good week of practice and he will go out there and do a good job on Sunday. He has to in order for us to have success."
Frazier did admit that because he has made other position changes and stresses accountability among his players that if Ponder continues to struggle there is concern about the inevitable perception in the locker room that Ponder gets to keep his job no matter how poorly he might play.
"I've thought about that a lot because when you're struggling at a position, the guys know how we talked about everybody doing their jobs and why it's important for us to have our success," Frazier said. "You don't want to send mixed messages at any position. It's important that all the positions do their jobs and function well. The quarterback position is always under that bright light.
"We believe that Christian is going to continue to develop and grow and be the quarterback that we all expect him to be. That being said, there's a lot riding on this next ballgame for our football team and I'm sure there are a lot of guys looking and wondering if we can get it done under the current situation. I believe we can. I believe we'll play better, not only at the quarterback position but at other positions as well. We'll need to as a team."
As for potentially playing Webb, Frazier said he has faith in the backup.
"We think Joe can do it. We think he's a quality quarterback," Frazier said. "He's our backup now. If he had to step in and play, we have confidence that he would do a good job. But we do have confidence that Christian is going to play better. He knows he has to in order for us to win. But with Joe, we think he's very capable. That's why we kept him on the roster, kept him in the spot that he's in. We know if necessary he'd be able to help us."
Webb has started two games since being taken by the Vikings in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. Both of those starts came near the end of his rookie season, when he guided the Vikings to a victory at Philadelphia and then started in a loss at Detroit.