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Updated: October 9th, 2011 9:05pm
Pelissero: Win needn't stop Vikings from putting McNabb out to pasture

Pelissero: Win needn't stop Vikings from putting McNabb out to pasture

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Benching a veteran quarterback in favor of a rookie usually is a sign the season is a lost cause.

For the Minnesota Vikings, benching Donovan McNabb may be their only hope.

No, they're not a playoff team, no matter how quickly they buried the awful Arizona Cardinals in a 34-10 trashing on Sunday at the Metrodome.

This season is beyond saving, but if coach Leslie Frazier really wants to try, starting rookie Christian Ponder next week at Chicago is worth a shot.

The Vikings raced to a 28-0 lead in the first 12½ minutes on Sunday in spite of McNabb, not because of him. They held on despite a remarkable series of misfires that drew boos and chants of "WE WANT PONDER!" from the first quarter to the fourth.

"I can't worry about that," McNabb said. "I don't worry about it at all, because at the end of the day, they look up and they see a win."

This win was all about a defense that was opportunistic and unrelenting, sacking Kevin Kolb four times and forcing four turnovers on a day top cornerback Antoine Winfield was sidelined with a neck strain.

The offense fizzled after first-quarter touchdown drives of 18, 24 and 25 yards set up by defense and special teams, plus a 73-yarder keyed by Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson's 36-yard pass interference penalty. McNabb completed only 10 of 21 passes, nearly was intercepted twice and threw a handful of others into the ground.

"We're not going to get a magic wand and all of a sudden have a great offense," receiver Percy Harvin said.

No, but the Vikings at least should have a quarterback coaches trust to run the no-huddle and get off more than one play after driving to the Arizona 48 with 1:17 left in the half.

They at least should have a quarterback who doesn't leave tight end Visanthe Shiancoe looking for answers after one of those dirtballs, gesticulating on the sideline as McNabb tried to explain how he came up 5 yards short on a 7-yard throw to the flat.

"We'll go back and take a look at that and just see what we need to do to improve that," Frazier said. "I thought (McNabb) made some good throws (Sunday). It really helped us keep the chains moving."

McNabb did scramble for a 4-yard touchdown when the Cardinals lost track of him. He shook Joey Porter's grasp to hit Devin Aromashodu for a 21-yard gain and hit Aromashodu again for a 60-yard catch and run after backup safety Rashad Johnson fell down in coverage.

The bottom line, though, is McNabb has shown his ceiling at age 34 and it's lower than ever. Ponder surely would have some struggles, too, but at least there's a chance he could improve at a time plenty of other players are showing fight and the defense is ascending.

Brian Robison stripped Kolb and combined with Jared Allen for four sacks as they continue to play like the best end tandem in football. Nickel replacement Asher Allen had an early interception and Jamarca Sanford had two late.

"Once we started running Cover-2, we killed them," said Chris Cook, who was solid in Winfield's place at left cornerback. "The receivers couldn't get off the reroutes, and that pass rush was hot."

Beanie Wells averaged only 3 yards a carry. Kolb finished 21-of-42 passing, didn't complete a throw longer than 22 yards to a drop-prone receiver group and watched backup Richard Bartel run the final series. Persistent press coverage limited star receiver Larry Fitzgerald to four catches for 66 yards.

"They had tendencies," Cook said. "When they moved him inside, we were still going to put our hands on them regardless. We had somebody to jam him every time. We knew what they was doing. A lot of their stuff, we were calling it out before they did it."

On offense, Adrian Peterson juked Patrick Peterson for one touchdown, drove him the last 7 yards into the end zone for another and stiff-armed Richard Marshall for a third score in between.

"After about the second or third one, they knew they was in trouble," Harvin said. "With A.P., the quicker we get him going, it'll get the defense off-balance."

Aromashodu more than doubled inactive teammate Bernard Berrian's season yardage total in two touches, and the line was more competent than usual. Yet all that was overshadowed by a rare atmosphere in which 62,479 partisan were booing the home team -- and one player in particular -- at a time it led by three touchdowns.

Unlike Berrian, McNabb apparently is doing the right things behind the scenes, but his production is no less deserving of a spot on the bench. Yet Frazier joked after the game he never heard the boos and once again threw his full support behind McNabb, saying the Vikings are "counting on Donovan to lead us to a win next week on the road."

It was hard not to think back 11 months to a team that rallied for an overtime win at home against Arizona, convincing ownership to keep Brad Childress around just a little longer. The Vikings then got drummed 27-13 at Chicago and 31-3 at home the following week by the Green Bay Packers, who can deliver another knockout punch here on Oct. 23.

The lesson should be it's better to make a change a week too soon than a week too late when playoff hopes already are hanging by a thread, whether it's a coach who has lost the locker room or a quarterback who seems to have lost the ability to even assess his own flagging performance.

"It really doesn't matter," McNabb said. "We're 1-4 at this particular point. We all can clear things up. It's a great win for us and we'll come back out next week."

The Vikings' best hope may be that McNabb isn't given the chance.

Maybe Ponder won't be any better. But can he really be worse?

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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