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Updated: December 12th, 2011 12:20am
Pelissero: No quarterback quandary, but Joe Webb belongs on the field

Pelissero: No quarterback quandary, but Joe Webb belongs on the field

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Over the Minnesota Vikings' first 12 games, Joe Webb played 21 snaps and generated 26 yards of offense.

It took him all of one series on Sunday to remind everyone his seclusion remains one of this season's unsolved mysteries.

For all of Webb's flaws -- and he has plenty -- the guy who sidestepped Cliff Avril's edge rush, accelerated downfield and outran the entire Detroit Lions defense by 10 yards doesn't belong on the sideline.

For as impotent as the so-called Blazer package had been, the guy who rallied the Vikings offense to within 1 yard of a road win against a playoff contender deserves some sort of role on an every-week basis.

"Our hat is in full 'off' position to Joe Webb, because he was very, very difficult for us to handle," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We tried everything. We were spying him with five guys, we were spying him with four, we were playing coverage, we were all-out blitzing him -- he'd make one guy miss and be out on the edge."

No, the Vikings don't have a quarterback controversy on their hands. The roughest day of Christian Ponder's young career never should have happened -- not with a healing hip pointer that barely allowed the rookie on the practice field all week.

But what Webb accomplished in 39 snaps on Sunday can't be overlooked. He found out 2 hours before the game he wasn't starting, then relieved Ponder midway through the third quarter and led consecutive touchdown drives of 88 and 60 yards.

"Some of it was just Joe improvising at times and making things happen, which he can do like so many others can't," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "Lot of talent."

Webb ran seven times for 109 yards, including the 65-yard touchdown that jump-started the rally. He completed 12 of 23 passes for 84 yards and another score. He had Schwartz screaming at players to contain him and Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham rushing three on the final series in fear of another lightning-strike scramble.

"We had pressure on him, but he bided his time," Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "You can only cover for so long. If he gets on the edge, you've got the guy you are covering right here and you've got a guy coming at you. You are kind of in no-man's land."

The comeback came up short, thanks to an empty blitz that squirted through and tossed off the timing of a fade to Kyle Rudolph for the win. With 9 seconds on the clock, Webb should have thrown the ball into the stands at the first sign of pressure, rather than trying to extend the play and letting Levy punch the ball out of his hands.

Still, was there any reason for Webb not to believe he could make something happen again?

How many NFL benchwarmers can say the same?

"I guess it's easier to call it since I'm already in the game," Webb said of the Blazer package, which offers a menu of read-option plays designed to utilize his athletic ability.

"I don't have to run on and off the field. That helps out a lot. It gives a really different look for the defense, and hopefully, we can continue that."

Coaches surely don't want to stunt Ponder's development by taking away too many snaps, in practice or in games. Webb missed a bunch of throws on Sunday, too -- he just didn't pay for them like Ponder, whose four turnovers led to 17 Lions points.

"Obviously, everyone wants to play well and never wants to be benched," Ponder said. "But I wasn't playing well enough. I was hurting the team more than I was helping the team. I was just excited to see Joe go out there and bring us back."

Webb's best showing before Sunday came in his first NFL start, an upset win at Philadelphia. Five days later, Webb seemed overmatched against these same Lions, who held him to 145 yards through the air and 35 on the ground.

His ability to handle the volume required of NFL quarterbacks remains in doubt. He never gets much time in practice at receiver either, and the knock behind the scenes has always been that he doesn't catch the ball particularly well.

There has to be a place for Webb somewhere, though. And one of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's tasks in the coming offseason is figuring out a way to get something out of Webb in September, rather than letting him sit until the Vikings once again are out of contention and options three months later.

"You never know when that time will come," Webb said. "Like (Sunday) -- I thought I was going to start, and then Christian, he was feeling better, so he got the start. I made sure I stayed ready, so in the future, I've got to make sure I stay ready. You never know when it's that time."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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