Next three games 'a defining moment' for Vikings QB Christian Ponder
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings aren't asking Christian Ponder to carry the offense during their unlikely playoff push.
But coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged on Wednesday his second-year quarterback can prove a lot over the next three games, beginning on Sunday at St. Louis.
"He's made some improvements," Frazier said. "There's no question about it, when you look at early in the season with some of the things he accomplished. He hit a bump in the road along the way, and now it's a matter of just getting through some of those moments that most quarterbacks that are young go through.
"He's got to continue to improve. You're in a situation now that is sometimes unique for a second-year quarterback. You're in the middle of a playoff race in December. So, this will be, in a lot of ways, a defining moment for where he is in his development as a quarterback. I think he's made progress. There's still more progress to be made."
Ponder was 11-of-17 passing (64.7%) for 91 yards with an interception and a 53.8 rating in Sunday's 21-14 win over Chicago, which improved the Vikings' record to 7-6.
As usual, halfback Adrian Peterson drove the offense, racking up 104 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter that allowed the Vikings to play keep-away the rest of the way.
"Obviously, we're very successful in the run and everything and that's awesome," Ponder said. "We're going to keep leaning on that, and the passing game will develop. I don't think it's hindering my develop as a quarterback. I think we're throwing the ball enough. We threw the ball, I think, 17 times this past week. That's a decent amount of throws."
It was the third time in seven games Ponder has finished with less than 100 yards passing and the second in a win for a Vikings team that wants to run first. He did complete 6-of-7 passes on third downs, including two key conversions in the fourth quarter.
"I don't think we're marginalizing (the passing game) -- we're playing to our strengths," Frazier said. "That doesn't mean that we can't open it up and throw the football. But when you've got the best running back in the National Football League in your backfield, I just don't know if you want to revolve around the passing game. Our offense is going to revolve around number 28, and there is no secret to that."
Ponder concurred with the "defining moment" assessment, saying that "our goal is to make the playoffs and my goal is to play better and play at a high level and a consistent level, and what a great way to do it -- in meaningful games that are closing out in December and closing out the season to make the playoffs. I think it is a great opportunity for me."
Frazier once again pointed to Ponder's efficiency in the fourth quarter against the Bears as evidence he's developing, even if his overall numbers for the season -- 251-of-401 passing (62.6%) for 2,396 yards, 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 78.3 rating -- aren't overly inspiring.
"Having to drop back and throw it 30 times doesn't necessarily have to be a part of your development," Frazier said. "There are a lot of things that go into developing at that quarterback position, and it just so happens he's in a situation where he's playing with the best in the business at a position.
"One day, Adrian is going to retire, 10 years from now, and maybe Christian won't have that same luxury and more will be on his shoulders. But for the time being, it's going to revolve around 28."
Does Ponder mind being treated as a game manager?
"I think every quarterback who ever played was a manager of the game," Ponder said. "I think obviously there's guys that create more plays than others. But to an extent, a quarterback's always going to be managing a game.
"And that's fine. I don't care. If we're winning games and we're making a run for the playoffs and we're playing meaningful football in December, I'll manage the game all I want. I don't care."