Ponder sets career mark with legs, falls to 12-17 as NFL starter
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Quarterback Christian Ponder scrambled, looking for room to throw up a prayer on the last play of the game against the Cleveland Browns.
Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant slid off guard Brandon Fusco's block and sacked Ponder as he stepped up into the pocket to end the game and give the Minnesota Vikings an 0-3 record. Chased around most of the day, Ponder finished with five rushes for 46 yards and a career-high two rushing touchdowns.
"[Ponder] is a mobile quarterback, he has legs, can run, not too many quarterbacks can do that in this league. It's a weapon for him, really," Fusco said. "I have to do a better job making it a clear path for him. I'll put [the last sack] on my shoulders."
The Vikings offensive line gave up six sacks with pressure coming at Ponder from all angles. The Browns' interior line ran a number of stunts similar to how Detroit Lions' defensive tackles dominated the Vikings in Week 1.
"It seemed like Cleveland was in our backfield a lot," Coach Leslie Frazier said. "It's going to be hard to function as an offense if we can't protect better. How to explain it? It's hard to explain. We've got to get it fixed somehow. We've got to get it fixed like right now."
After struggling mightily in the red zone at Soldier Field last week, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave decided to spread the field with four-wide, sometimes five-wide sets and open up running lanes for Ponder.
The scheme worked as Ponder averaged 9.2 yards per ground attempt. However, his inability to move the ball in between the 20-yard markers highlighted his 17th loss in his 29th start.
Ponder had a chance to seal the game with three-and-a-half minutes left on a 3rd-and-4 when he lofted a pass to open receiver Greg Jennings as he ran down the sideline, but the pass flew out of Jennings' reach.
"We had some things called downfield, didn't connect," Frazier said. "We wanted to take some shots and [Ponder] did throw the ball downfield at times and we just weren't able to connect."
The Vikings' consecutive three-and-outs in the waning moments of the fourth quarter put the pressure back on the defense, who caved after holding the Browns scoreless for the entire second half until the game-winning touchdown (just like at Chicago).
Ponder said he heard the boo birds and calls for his benching during the rollercoaster afternoon at the last home opener in Metrodome history.
"I think it's impossible not to hear them," Ponder said. "We want to win just as bad as the fans and as bad as anyone else. We're more disappointed than they are and we have to give them something to cheer about."
Even though Ponder is 12-17 as a NFL starter in his third season, Frazier said an 0-3 start to the season isn't enough to bench him for veteran backup Matt Cassel.
Although Frazier's endorsement wasn't necessarily concrete confidence.
"Yeah. He's still our starting quarterback," Frazier said. "I don't foresee [benching Ponder]. I've got to go back and look at [the film] and see what created the inconsistency in why we're not executing as well as we need to in certain situations."