Notebook: Christian Ponder gashes Texans on third down with arm, legs
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HOUSTON -- Christian Ponder gave the finger to his critics on Sunday.
The ring finger.
Six days after eloping to Hudson, Ponder completed 16 of 30 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 48 yards in the Minnesota Vikings' 23-6 upset of Houston.
"Coach (Leslie) Frazier says I should get married every other day," Ponder said. "I don't know if my wife would like that, but we will see."
Ponder's first pass went to Kyle Rudolph for 27 yards off the first of many bootlegs. He also hit Michael Jenkins for 32 yards on third-and-6 to extend the drive and capped it off another boot with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Rudolph.
That gave the Vikings touchdowns on their first drive of three consecutive games -- all wins -- and a 7-3 lead they never relinquished on their way to wide advantages in net yards (345-187), first downs (22-11) and time of possession (34:46-25:14).
"We were teasing (Ponder) in the locker room," Frazier said. "Being a married guy -- he had a great week of practice. I think not being single has been a plus for him. It's a good thing. But he came in with great focus. He understood the game plan."
Ponder wasn't perfect. He fumbled on a sack by J.J. Watt, couldn't connect on any of the deep double moves coordinator Bill Musgrave kept dialing up and failed to get a couple of throwaways out of bounds, leading to one near-interception.
But even one of Ponder's mistakes ended up leading to a big play. On third-and-13 early in the fourth quarter, he was trying to throw the ball out of bounds when his arm was hit -- only for Jerome Simpson to elevate between two defenders for a 17-yard reception.
He finished 9-of-13 passing for 101 yards on third down, converting five through the air and two more on scrambles of 21 and 29 yards.
"We knew they were going to play a lot of man coverage and we knew the nakeds (bootlegs) would be good," Ponder said. "I think we took advantage of the nakeds and we tried to create throws that we saw worked from the preseason."
Ponder's starting job appeared to be in jeopardy after his two interceptions cost the Vikings in a loss at Green Bay on Dec. 2. He played well in last week's win at St. Louis but faced questions about his focus after marrying Samantha Steele the next day.
He shrugged off the criticism after Sunday's game -- "When it takes an hour of my day to get married," Ponder said, "it won't take time out of being in the film room" -- but provided his most telling answers on the field.
"Just a young guy that's playing with more passion and just showing his desire and having more confidence in what he can do," halfback Adrian Peterson said. "He's going out there. He's taking chances.
"Sometimes, you'll be like 'ahh' -- but that's with everybody. It gets pointed out a little more with the quarterback position. But he's playing outstanding these past couple weeks. He's been climbing the totem pole."
On a day the Texans struggled to move the football, their two longest drives ended in disaster.
Late in the third quarter, the Texans needed seven plays to drive from their 39-yard line to the Vikings 1 -- only for Matt Schaub to miss Owen Daniels on first-and-goal, Ben Tate to get stuffed on second and Schaub to take a 14-yard sack by Fred Evans on third.
"That goal-line stand -- that kind of set the tempo of where we were going to be at," end Jared Allen said. "Then to have Fred come up with a monster sack right there, you had guys contributing from all aspects and it was a fun game."
Ponder's fumble in the third quarter was the Vikings' only turnover, and Houston couldn't take advantage.
Bradie James recovered at the Vikings' 45-yard line. But the Texans' ensuing drive netted only 4 yards, thanks in part to a holding penalty on left tackle Duane Brown, and they ended up punting.
"The play broke down. The pocket broke down," Ponder said. "I was trying to scramble out. It is my job to secure it. I should have just thrown it away or gone to the left side or just thrown it over (a receiver's) head. Just dumb by me."
Chris Cook got the start at cornerback but was on a limited snap count, with Jefferson playing some snaps in the base defense as well.
It was Cook's first game action since he broke his right arm against Tampa Bay on Oct. 25. The Vikings activated him from injured reserve on Saturday.
Frazier said the limited role was based on "(j)ust his conditioning and knowing that game speed versus practice speed is different. So, we wanted to make sure we bring him along, but get him in at the right time."
Left end Brian Robison missed the game because of his sprained right shoulder but should be back against the Packers.
"I think he'll be ready," Frazier said. "He was close. But we'll have to wait to see when we start back work next week. I'm hoping we'll have him back. We definitely need him."
There were no significant injuries out of the game, Frazier said, although halfback Adrian Peterson was pulled in the fourth quarter in part because of abdominal soreness.
"We had some guys with some bumps and bruises we'll have to reassess when we get back on Monday," Frazier said, "but nothing that should keep anybody out of the ballgame next week."
• Foster left the game in the second half as a precaution because of an irregular heartbeat. "I'll be fine," Foster said in a statement issued by the team. "I'll be OK. It's a very minor situation, so I'll be OK."
• Winfield's sack was the eighth of his Vikings career, good for second all-time among defensive backs behind only Joey Browner (9½).