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Updated: December 18th, 2011 7:47pm
Notebook: Christian Ponder knows final 2 games are 'crucial' for him

Notebook: Christian Ponder knows final 2 games are 'crucial' for him

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Leslie Frazier said on Sunday he still has confidence in Christian Ponder, but the Minnesota Vikings coach made it clear he will be evaluating the performance of his rookie quarterback in the final two games of the season.

Ponder had another rough game on Sunday, completing only 14 of 31 passes for 120 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the Vikings' 42-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints. He was sacked four times.

After taking a sack with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Ponder had zero net yards passing. This came a week after Ponder was pulled in the third quarter of the Vikings' loss at Detroit.

"I don't know if it's a setback," Frazier said when asked if Ponder has regressed in recent weeks. "I think it's that he's played against some pretty decent defenses, and (Sunday) some of the things they did created some problems for him with the pressures they got.

"(We) still have to see how he does in these next two ballgames. ... I don't want to measure purely on the last two weeks. I want to see what happens these next two weeks. ... There is more time for him to continue to improve and to get some work."

The 12th pick in April's NFL Draft, Ponder replaced Donovan McNabb as the Vikings' starting quarterback on Oct. 23 against Green Bay.

Ponder has fallen to 1-7 as a starter with his only victory coming on Oct. 30 at Carolina. Ponder has thrown 13 touchdowns, including two on Sunday, and 12 interceptions.

After having five passes intercepted in the two games before Sunday, Ponder had only the one pick against the Saints. That came on a desperation heave to end the game.

The issue for Ponder on Sunday was that too many of his throws were off target.

"That was just poor execution," he said. "There are two or three in my mind that I missed, and they were just not good. As an NFL quarterback, you can't miss throws. I don't want to attribute that to the pass protection at all. I just missed them."

Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave want to see that change in the final two games against Washington and Chicago.

"I still have confidence in Christian," Frazier said. "I think we have to sure up some things around him. I haven't lost confidence in Christian. We have some things that we have to get fixed to help him. Not just offensively, but we have some things we have to get fixed in order to compete with the better teams in our league.

"Some of what he is experiencing, you have to look at the bigger picture, the entire offense, and not just his performance."

Ponder, though, knows he needs to show improvement in the final two games in order to build confidence among his teammates and also within himself.

"They are crucial (games)," Ponder said. "They're huge. Going into the offseason, we've got to finish strong. We've got to put in two solid performances and our goal is to win those two games to kind of have a springboard going into the offseason. We want to close out this 2011 season in a positive way."

A positive to play

Frazier said he did not consider benching Ponder in favor of Joe Webb, who did get a few plays at quarterback and had one incompletion.

"I really thought it would be a good experience for (Ponder) to go through and experience what we were as a team," Frazier said. "I wanted us to get into some no-huddles in the 2-minute (drill). I thought that would be good for him and our team. I wanted him to experience that situation."

Not sitting well

Defensive end Jared Allen was removed from Sunday's game late in the fourth quarter shortly after being chop blocked and getting up slowly.

With the Vikings trailing by 22, the move shouldn't have been viewed as a huge surprise.

Nonetheless, Allen made it clear he wasn't pleased with the decision.

In fact, when asked about the effort level he felt his teammates gave on Sunday, Allen brought up the fact he had to watch the final minutes from the sideline.

"I was pissed that they wouldn't let me out there to finish the game off," he said. "I don't like it when they try to pull me at the end."

Allen did not know why he was removed.

"What are they resting me for, playoffs?" he said. "Come on. I don't know. That's not my decision. I guess they want the young guys to play. ... I'm just trying to be a good soldier.

"For me, I want to play the whole game. I don't want to come off the field. I feel like (if) we're trying to win games, we should put our best players on the field. They felt that I obviously needed to be off the field at that time, so that's their call.

"It's tough to watch other guys, like E.J. (Henderson) and Chad (Greenway) and guys out there, just working their butts off to make plays. You want to be out there giving it your all with them."

Sack streak ends

The Vikings entered Sunday third in the NFL with 40 sacks and Allen was first in the league with 17½ sacks.

But Allen and his teammates did not get to Saints quarterback Drew Brees once on Sunday, marking the first time this season the Vikings were held without a sack.

"We rushed good at times. (Brees) just made plays," Allen said. "There were times we've got to get there and there were times when we got there and the ball wasn't there.

"Drew is one of the best for a reason. He gets rid of that ball and they do a good job of protecting him scheme-wise as far as chipping out. It's very rare that you get a true one-on-one with a seven-step drop where he's going deep with it. The ball is out quick and hats off to them. They protect him well."

Sunday's game was only the third this season in which Allen has failed to either get at least a half-sack.

Allen was held in check by Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who was pursued by the Vikings in free agency after the NFL lockout ended last summer.

"I thought an important statistic was the time we were going to have to throw the ball," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I thought we did a good job on the edges. I thought our tackles played well."

They played well enough that Brees was able to complete 32 of 40 passes for 412 yards with five touchdowns. He had a 149.2 passer rating. The five touchdowns tied the record for the most against the Vikings in a single game.

Brees is the seventh quarterback to throw five scoring passes against the Vikings. Before Sunday, the most recent was Brad Johnson, who had five touchdown passes on Nov. 3, 2002 for Tampa Bay.

The most passing yards against the Vikings was 486 by Tampa Bay's Doug Williams on Nov. 16, 1980.

Sapp sits to open game

With Cedric Griffin having been banished to the bench, Benny Sapp was slated to start at the right cornerback spot on Sunday.

Only he didn't.

The Vikings opened the game with rookie Brandon Burton and Asher Allen as the starting corners and Marcus Sherels playing inside in the nickel. Sapp sat out the first two plays before entering.

Frazier acknowledged that Sapp's absence to start the game was a disciplinary move. "(It) was something that him and I talked about (Saturday) night that needed to take place," Frazier said.

Sapp said any questions about the situation should be directed toward Frazier, who did not elaborate on the situation.

An NFL source said Sapp missed a meeeting at the team hotel on Saturday night and thus was benched to open the game.

Griffin a spectator

Cornerback Cedric Griffin was benched in the first quarter last Sunday at Detroit after Titus Young went right past him on a 57-yard touchdown reception.

Afterward, Griffin made no attempt to hide the fact he wasn't happy with the decision. But the veteran was on his best behavior Sunday after watching the game from the sideline.

Griffin was used on special teams, but that's a long fall for a guy who entered Sunday having started 12 of the first 13 games. Even with Sapp being benched to open the game, Griffin couldn't get on the field.

Griffin has torn the ACL in each knee in the past two years and he clearly is not fully recovered.

"That was just something that was coordinated already," Griffin said of not getting in on defense. "It was coordinated and that's all I can say about that."

Asked to elaborate on what he meant by coordinated, Griffin said: "It's just coordinated, just coordinated. Go look it up. I'm sure you know what that means. Coordinate."

Griffin made comments after the Lions game about having to decide on his future. He said Sunday that reporters needed to talk to Frazier and the personnel department if they wanted to discuss his future in Minnesota.

"I'm going to make the best decision I can for my family and myself, no question," Griffin said when it was pointed out that he might have a say in what happens. "Other than that, you've got to go talk to the head man and personnel."

Frazier said the Vikings plan to sit down with Griffin this week and, "see where he is and how he will fit," for Saturday's game at Washington.

Frazier also expressed confidence that Griffin will remain a part of the Vikings. "Yes, barring some unforeseen circumstance," he said. "I don't know what could not have him be a part of our 53."

Nine and counting

The Vikings have now gone nine games without an interception, establishing an NFL record in the modern era. That era began in 1970 after the NFL and AFL merged.

According to ESPN Stats and information, the Atlanta Falcons went eight games without a pick in 1996 and the St. Louis Rams went eight without an interception starting in Week 11 of 2009 and ending in Week 1 of 2010.

"Guys have got to play with no fear, including myself," Sapp said when asked about the mark. "We've got to go out there and make plays. That's what we're out there playing defensive back for, to get interceptions and stuff like that. Right now, we're just not capitalizing on them and I can't call it, you all see the games just like I see it. I don't know."

Health watch

Cornerback Asher Allen left Sunday's game in the first half because of a concussion.

Given that he will now have to pass tests to get back on the field, it would appear there is a real chance Allen won't play against the Redskins. Allen has had at least two concussions since last season.

Left guard Steve Hutchinson suffered a lip laceration in the third quarter and had to get stitches. He was not able to finish the game.

Safety Jarrad Page, meanwhile, injured his hamstring and offensive lineman Pat Brown injured his shoulder playing on special teams.

Missed opportunities

The Vikings had two golden chances to get touchdowns in the first half as they began drives at the New Orleans 26- and 21-yard lines after recovering fumbles. But in both cases they ended up with field goals.

"I was so hot, we ended both of those turnovers with three points against a team and an offense like the Saints have," Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said. "You've got to make sure you execute. Especially turnovers when you are in scoring position. We've got to learn from it and just do a better job of executing when we're in the red zone."

Quick hits

• With the Vikings playing on Saturday and not Sunday, the team's schedule will be a bit different this week. The players are normally off on Tuesday, but instead the expectation is they will practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then fly to Washington on Friday. Players would then be off next Sunday.

• TE Jimmy Kleinsasser played in his 179th game on Sunday, setting a team record for most games played by a tight end. Kleinsasser, who has been with the Vikings since 1999, broke Steve Jordan's mark (1982-94).

• HB Toby Gerhart tied a Vikings record for most receiving touchdowns in a game by a running back with two on Sunday.

• Peterson's 60 rushing yards on Sunday give him his fifth season with 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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