Pelissero: Christian Ponder prepared for boos as Vikings return home
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It won't take long for the Minnesota Vikings to hear the boos and worse for their struggling second-year quarterback, who looked more out of sorts than ever here on Sunday.
"It's happened already before," Ponder said after throwing for just 63 yards on 11-of-22 passing with an interception in a 30-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
"It comes with the territory. And I don't blame them. Obviously, we're not -- I'm not putting a product out on the field that they want to watch."
The Vikings have no interest in benching a quarterback whose face has been plastered on the franchise since the day they drafted him 12th overall.
They have no interest in finding out how badly such a decision might crush Ponder's confidence, which seems to be flagging as memories of his play in the Vikings' 5-2 start accelerate into the rearview.
But there's no question the Vikings' inability to throw the football ranks highly on a list of issues that seemingly has mushroomed at light speed over the past 11 days.
"We've got to look at what we're doing route-wise and figure out how we can create some separation for our receivers," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We've got to schematically see if there are some things that we can do a little bit different to get the ball out of (Ponder's) hands."
If they can't, a two-game losing streak will become three next Sunday against Detroit and a rebuilding Vikings team that not long ago appeared ahead of schedule will find itself right back where it finished the past two years -- in the NFC North Division cellar.
Chicago pounded Tennessee 51-20 on Sunday to move to 7-1, Green Bay moved to 6-3 with a 31-17 win over Arizona and a 31-14 win over Jacksonville made it 4-4 for the Lions, whose next task is avenging the Vikings' upset at Ford Field on Sept. 30.
The Vikings blew out Tennessee the following week and since have lost three of four games, including consecutive clunkers against Tampa Bay on Oct. 25 at the 'Dome and the Seahawks on Sunday before 67,584 fans at typically raucous CenturyLink Field.
"Frustrating's an understatement," end Jared Allen said. "It's annoying. It's -- I don't know. It's embarrassing, honestly."
Adrian Peterson produced a performance so otherworldly one Seahawks official's jaw dropped while discussing it. He ran for 74 yards on the game's second play, finished with 182 on 17 carries (10.7 average) and scored twice as the Vikings built a 17-14 lead.
But fortunes turn quickly for teams that can only do one thing well. The Vikings' run defense caved for 195 yards and a touchdown, Russell Wilson carved them up for three more scores and the ball became a lead balloon in Ponder's hands.
"To have the capability to play one way and then to get smoked at your own house and then come back out and get smoked again on the road -- guys' mindsets got to change, from top to bottom, from coaches down to quality control guys," Allen said.
"It's time to get this thing rolling and get back to what we were doing well and guys have got to take a serious look in the mirror and figure out if this is what they want to do."
Percy Harvin's arm-waving rant to Frazier while the Vikings still led was only the most visible manifestation of the aggravation bubbling not far below the surface of the offense.
The Seahawks bludgeoned the protection unit with the same sorts of overload blitzes on which Tampa thrived, repeatedly removing Ponder's ability to step up in the pocket even when someone did manage to get open downfield.
Harvin's early fumble led to a touchdown that swung momentum in Seattle's favor. He spent the final minutes gesticulating to teammates on the bench and hinted at schematic issues while facing repeated questions from reporters about the deflated air attack.
"I can't put my finger on anything right now," Harvin said. "It's frustrating. It's frustrating for everyone."
That frustration figures to create a tense atmosphere next Sunday, with Ponder's play the easiest target if the Vikings end up finding themselves back at .500 entering their bye.
They control their own destiny for the most part. They come out of the bye with two games against the Bears and one against the Packers in a 15-day span, with another meeting against Green Bay in the regular-season finale.
"There's so much football left to be played," Frazier said. "We've been through some back to back losses, been through some ugly losses, and I know things can turn around. You've just got to make sure you stay together as a team and everybody takes a constructive look at what we're doing when we go back and look at tape on Monday and get things corrected."
The more the Vikings play like this, though, the harder that unity may be to come by, with the most difficult stretch on the schedule still ahead.
The more Ponder plays like this, the harder it may become for coaches to convince themselves that letting him experience repeated failure is his only path to future success.