This time Christian Ponder experiences success against Packers
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MINNEAPOLIS -- What a difference 29 days makes.
At least that's the case if you're Christian Ponder.
On Dec. 2, several of Ponder's teammates made their way over to the quarterback's locker to tell him to hang in there after a 23-14 loss at Green Bay had dropped the Vikings to 6-6. Ponder had completed 12 of 25 passes for 119 yards with a touchdown and two critical interceptions.
Ponder had posted a 41.9 passer rating and it appeared any chance the Vikings had of making a playoff run was slipping away because of their quarterback.
Fast forward to Sunday evening.
Ponder and his teammates were celebrating in the Metrodome locker room after a last-second 37-34 victory over the Packers had lifted the Vikings into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The victory was the fourth in a row for the Vikings and this time Ponder's statistics were far superior to the numbers he posted at Lambeau.
Ponder completed 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was a career-best 120.2. It was the first time Ponder had a passer rating over 100 since Week 2 of the regular season.
Ponder's reward is that he will get an opportunity to atone for his Lambeau Field meltdown next Saturday night when the Vikings face the Packers again in a first-round game. But in the aftermath of Sunday's victory, Ponder elected to focus on the present.
"The things we've done and gone through this season and things I've done and gone through this season, this is something we can definitely be proud of," Ponder said. "We're excited. What a way to end the regular season and obviously we're not done yet."
After throwing for only 91 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in a win over Chicago on Dec. 9, Ponder began to show real improvement in road victories over St. Louis (131 yards) and Houston (174 yards, one touchdown).
Ponder hasn't thrown an interception in the past three games, one shy of the four-game stretch he had without a pick to open the season.
"He's playing at a high level at this point," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We needed that (Sunday) against a high-powered offense with an excellent quarterback. He did a terrific job. He's playing very good football at the right time for us."
Ponder also had some luck on his side Sunday.
The prime example of this came late in the second quarter when Packers strong safety Morgan Burnett came free and hit Ponder as he made an ill-advised throw that popped into the air on second-and-9 from the Vikings 41-yard line.
The ball was up literally up for grabs but ended up falling into the arms of Vikings receiver Jarius Wright for a 17-yard gain. "It was the right guy (who caught it) so it worked out," Ponder said.
The drive ended with Ponder throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Wright to give the Vikings a 20-7 lead.
Ponder also completed a season-long 65-yard pass to Wright in the fourth quarter that set up a 3-yard scoring pass to Michael Jenkins to give the Vikings a 34-27 lead. "I don't have the arm strength to make that throw but somehow I did it," Ponder said, taking a jab at those who have questioned the strength of his throwing arm.
Ponder also hit on some key third-down throws, including an 8-yard completion to Jerome Simpson on a third-and-7 from the Vikings 48-yard line on their opening drive. Blair Walsh finished the drive with a 54-yard field goal.
On the next series, Ponder completed a short pass to Toby Gerhart on third-and-11 from the Vikings 39. Gerhart gained 21 yards and four players later Adrian Peterson went up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown run to give the Vikings a 10-0 lead.
Ponder had no bigger third-down completion then on the Vikings' final drive with the score tied at 34. Facing a third-and-11 from his own 27 and coming out of the 2-minute warning, Ponder completed a 25-yard pass to Jenkins at the Packers 48.
Blair Walsh capped that drive, and ended the game, with a 29-yard field goal to lift the Vikings.
"(Ponder) went through his ups and downs, but he's bounced back strong these last four games and that's exactly what we needed," Jenkins said.
Jenkins joined Wright and Simpson with a team-high three receptions on Sunday. In addition to Wright and Jenkins, Peterson also caught a 2-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. It was Peterson's first touchdown reception since Oct. 30 of last season at Caroilna.
"That felt good," Peterson said. "It was funny because on that play, it was like me and Christian connected. I'm looking at him, I'm like, 'Throw the ball.' It was like he was a little unsure if I was going catch it or not. I was like, 'Throw the ball, run it, make a decision now.' We were communicating back and forth and he was able to throw the pass. I was able to catch it. It was big."
And helped make things feel much different than they did earlier this month when Ponder's teammates attempted to keep his spirits up.
"After that game in Lambeau, it was definitely a tough loss," Ponder said. "Tough on me. I turned around after that. I think it was a wakeup call that I need to play better. I used it as motivation and now we're here."