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Updated: January 4th, 2013 7:51pm
Zulgad: Christian Ponder's injury opens door to keep Packers guessing

Zulgad: Christian Ponder's injury opens door to keep Packers guessing

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

APPLETON, Wis. -- No matter how poorly Christian Ponder played this season, there was never any doubt he would be the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback.

Coach Leslie Frazier didn't want it any other way and made that clear on numerous occasions.

That's what makes the Vikings' current situation so interesting.

Suddenly, there is at least some question about who will be the Vikings' quarterback for Saturday night's wild card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

After a week of being limited in practice because of an injury to his right elbow, Ponder was listed as questionable on the Vikings' injury report Friday. That designation technically means there is a 50-50 chance he will play.

Is Ponder's elbow really hurting bad enough from a second-quarter hit last Sunday from blitzing safety Morgan Burnett there is legitimate concern about whether he can play in the rematch against Green Bay?

Or is Frazier engaging in some high-stakes (and genius) gamesmanship with the Packers?

All through the regular season, Frazier knew he had one viable option at quarterback and that was Ponder. Joe Webb has proven before that he is a nice change of pace, but he is not the long-term solution for any team.

But for one game? One quarter? One half?

That's a different story.

One of the main storylines throughout this week was that the Vikings and Packers knew everything about each other. The NFC North rivals played twice in December and are set for their third meeting in just over a month.

Throw in the fact that NFL teams spend part of their offseason scouting division foes, and there really did appear to be few secrets between these teams. But Frazier has put the Packers on alert that at a moment's notice they could be facing Webb.

And we're not talking the Webb offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave attempted to make run his scheme during the preseason.

We're talking about the Webb who essentially ran his own version of the Vikings' offense in a near miracle comeback at Detroit last season and then brought them back for a victory on Christmas Eve 2011 at Washington.

In those situations, the Vikings allowed Webb to play to his strengths and the results were positive.

That is the Webb the Packers defense would have to face on Saturday night if the pain in Ponder's elbow forces him to depart.

Webb might not be a regular starting quarterback in the NFL, but he has a few things going for him. His athleticism makes him unpredictable in short spurts and his nearly unflappable demeanor makes him a prime candidate to feel zero pressure no matter the setting.

Even if Webb doesn't play Saturday, Frazier has accomplished the goal of getting Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his players thinking about the fact they might be seeing a very different offense at some point.

NFL coaches love routine. They embrace being fully prepared for anything that might come along.

The Packers suddenly don't have the security of knowing what to expect.

Webb has taken three snaps this season and all came in garbage time against Tennessee. Getting him in a game seemed like a huge long shot a few days ago and any attempt to put him in would have caused plenty of head-scratching, given the obvious commitment to Ponder as the Vikings' quarterback.

Frazier, though, has suddenly opened the door for using Webb on Saturday, even if it is in a limited role. Frazier can simply tell reporters that Ponder's elbow was hurting and so he needed a break. After all, it's right there on the injury report. That isn't a lack of confidence in Ponder, Frazier will say, it's a move that gave the Vikings the best chance to win.

The reality is Ponder's elbow really is hurting, too. But the other reality is that Frazier has now given the Packers something else to digest in a short week of preparation. And that's pure genius.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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