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Updated: December 2nd, 2012 8:39pm
Pelissero: Vikings rallying behind Ponder, but do they have a choice?

Pelissero: Vikings rallying behind Ponder, but do they have a choice?

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was a subtle gesture, but one that had meaning inside the Minnesota Vikings' somber locker room on Sunday afternoon.

Kevin Williams slowed as he got to quarterback Christian Ponder's locker, tapped the struggling second-year quarterback on the shoulder and said something softly before continuing on to the shower.

"You're good," Williams added as he walked away.

Other veterans did the same, some at the urging of teammates.

Ponder nodded each time, dressed and walked to the podium, where he rightly took blame for a 23-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers that fell squarely on him and two damning interceptions.

"One in the red zone. One driving to get in the end zone. For sure," Ponder said. "There's other plays beside that that I wish I could have back."

As the Vikings have watched a 4-1 start slip away, people up and down the organization have made compelling cases for why it's not Ponder's fault.

On Sunday, it was, and now the Vikings are 6-6 amid renewed scrutiny of their plan at the most important position.

Adrian Peterson's 210 rushing yards on 21 carries and a serviceable defensive showing for three quarters weren't enough to overcome the Vikings' total inability to make anything happen in the passing game -- and Ponder's two miscues in Packers territory.

"The run game's not the issue. It's firing on all cylinders still," center John Sullivan said. "It's nice we're able to keep that going, even when teams know we're going to run it. But we've got to be more balanced if we want to win. It's just what it comes down to."

The Vikings' margin for error is razor-thin. They had a sound plan offensively that mostly ignored their overmatched receivers for heavy doses of Peterson and Kyle Rudolph, who each scored as the Vikings rallied to take a 14-10 halftime lead.

The defense recovered from Aaron Rodgers' initial dissection, too, and the Vikings might have widened the halftime margin if Everson Griffen's questionable roughing the passer call hadn't wiped away a Jared Allen interception.

They got the ball out of the locker room and were at the Green Bay 8 when Ponder forced a late throw across his body for Michael Jenkins that safety Morgan Burnett intercepted, breathing life into the Packers and 70,567 previously subdued fans.

"We're in great position and I think we would have gone up 21-10 or 17-10," coach Leslie Frazier said.

"Either way, field goal or touchdown, the way our defense was playing, you'd love to let Jared and those guys pin their ears back and rush at that point. But it didn't happen. We end up with nothing, and they went down and kicked a field goal, and now it's their type of game."

Ponder finished 12-of-25 passing (48%) for 119 yards, gifting another interception to Burnett by throwing behind Rudolph on a first-and-10 cross from the Packers 25 with the Vikings down 20-14 late in the third quarter.

The Packers proceeded to march 73 yards in 18 plays, eating a full 11 minutes off the clock against an exhausted Vikings defense before Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal made it a nine-point game and iced the decision.

Now, the Vikings face a true must-win next Sunday against the Bears to keep alive playoff hopes that look fainter than they have in two months, with Seattle's overtime win in Chicago dropping them one game back of the second NFC wild card.

"If you look at it that way, you've got to win the game," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Let's go win the game. That's just what it's got to be. It's got to be our approach during practice during the week. Our coaches need to coach that way. Our players need to play that way."

That includes Ponder, whose coach also offered encouragement, then took his own trip to the podium to say he never contemplated turning to backup Joe Webb during Sunday's game and rule out the possibility of considering a change this week.

Asked if he's concerned about how that will play in the locker room, Frazier said, "I don't think it'll be a tough sell. These guys are teammates that want the same thing. They know that we can win with the personnel that we have and we've shown that we can. We've just got to do a few things better. ...

"We're not out of this thing by any means. We've got a lot of veteran players who realize that every year, things change. But at the same time, they also know that we've got the right people doing the things that we're asking them to do. There's no reason right now to panic."

The stream of players and team officials to Ponder's corner after the worst of his 22 NFL starts suggests that hasn't happened yet. One stated unequivocally the Vikings will beat the Bears next Sunday and the Packers in the Dec. 30 rematch at the Metrodome.

Then again, it's no secret the Vikings have been steadfast in their commitment to Ponder since drafting him 12th overall out of Florida State 19 months ago. That was an organizational decision for the long haul, and any change of course would have to come from over Frazier's head.

In other words, with no belief in Webb as a starting quarterback from the top down, players and coaches alike know their only hope for keeping their season alive is to do everything in their power to pull Ponder out of his latest rut, before it's too late.

"It hurts. It definitely hurts," Ponder said. "But that's football. That's the quarterback position, and I can't let it get me down.

"I've got to move forward, and if I let this affect me and affect the next game, that's unfair to my teammates. It's unfair to me. I've got to swallow it and learn from it and come back to work (Monday)."

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.
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