By air or by land, Christian Ponder was getting the job done on Sunday afternoon, even if his numbers weren't amazing. (Photo by Adam Bettcher /Getty Images)
As we've already stated on numerous occasions, when you look at Christian Ponder's debut performance from a purely numerical perspective, it's nothing impressive. He only completed 13 passes in 32 attempts for 219 yards, and threw two interceptions to go along with two touchdown passes, giving him a final quarterback rating of 59.2 on the afternoon.
But, aside from clearly passing the "eye test," which Ponder did with flying colors, there are some parts of the numbers that show why Viking fans have every right to be excited about what the rookie did in his first ever NFL start. More specifically, it wasn't the number of completions, necessarily, but when they came and what they accomplished.
We'll break it down further after the jump there.The first big difference between the offense with Christian Ponder at the helm and the offense with Donovan McNabb at the helm is third down conversions. Specifically third down conversions in the fourth quarter. As pointed out by Mark Craig of the Star-Tribune, in the first five games of the 2011 season with McNabb at quarterback, the Vikings faced 15 third down situations in the fourth quarter. They converted four of those 15 opportunities.
McNabb was 4 of 10 passing for 27 yards, one touchdown and two sacks on third downs in the fourth quarter. Two of his completions came up short of the first down. He also had a 20-yard pass on fourth-and-14.
Ponder converted five of seven third down opportunities in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game alone (and he's seven for 11 if you count the fourth quarter he played in Chicago the previous week). How did he convert those third downs? Well, here are the plays from the NFL.com Game Book.
3-6-MIN 11 (11:20) (Shotgun) 7-C.Ponder pass short left to 81-V.Shiancoe to MIN 33 for 22 yards (42-M.Burnett).
3-7-MIN 36 (10:07) (Shotgun) 7-C.Ponder up the middle to MIN 48 for 12 yards (26-C.Peprah).
3-13-MIN 45 (8:23) (Shotgun) 7-C.Ponder pass short middle to 85-G.Camarillo to GB 39 for 16 yards (55-D.Bishop). PENALTY on GB-52-C.Matthews, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at GB 39. (Immediately followed by the 24-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins)
3-7-MIN 5 (4:49) (Shotgun) 7-C.Ponder pass short right to 81-V.Shiancoe to MIN 17 for 12 yards (93-E.Walden).
3-10-MIN 17 (3:37) (Shotgun) 7-C.Ponder pass deep middle to 85-G.Camarillo to MIN 36 for 19 yards (24-J.Bush).
He converted with his arm, he converted with his legs, and he converted under pressure.
Again, let that sink in. . .Christian Ponder, making his first ever National Football League start and being put in a situation where the defense knew he was going to have to throw the football, created more third down conversions in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game than a 13-year veteran quarterback converted in the first five weeks of the season combined.
You want a little more goodness? Well, the good folks from Football Outsiders will give us some in their analysis of Christian Ponder.
One quick nugget that should make Vikings fans smile: Ponder's average completion came 11.2 yards past the line of scrimmage, most of any starter this week. If there were any concerns about his arm strength, that should help put them to rest.
Yeah, the 72-yarder on the first play might skew that a little bit, but I don't know how anyone that watched Sunday's game could have come away thinking, "You know, I just don't think that guy has an NFL-caliber arm." Because he quite clearly does.
The last thing that I want to throw out there about Ponder's performance. Yes, he threw the two ugly interceptions that Charles Woodson grabbed. Woodson's a future Hall of Famer, and a lot of young quarterbacks might have gotten scared off of throwing to Woodson's side of the field after something like that.
Not Ponder. Ponder apparently saw that Woodson had flipped into "I can intercept every pass thrown my direction" mode, and managed to take advantage of the over-aggressiveness that Woodson showed for the rest of the afternoon. The result of Ponder not being willing to just cede half of the field to Woodson?
Yeah. . .that's Woodson lying on his butt there. Watching Michael Jenkins go into the end zone. As bad as Woodson made Ponder look on the two interceptions, Ponder made Woodson look just as foolish there.
Yes, it's just one start. Yes, it's early. But we have something here, folks. We really have something.