Before I even begin this Monday afternoon depression-laced diatribe, I do want to start with some positive. (No, this is not a giant compliment sandwich. It ends on a bad note.) Prior to the game I announced on Twitter that I was taking guesses (because c'mon, that's all they ever really are) about who would win and what the final score would be. To sweeten the pot, I also announced that for every person who picked the winner correctly, and who's final score total was within 10 points of the actual final score's total, I would donate $10 to Sandy Relief.
Thank G-d first off that there weren't like 20 people who got it right because I would have had to sheepishly admit that I do not have that kind of dough. I felt pretty confident however that the final amount would be pretty small, and I was right- technically, not a single person fit the requirements.
Nonetheless, a thanks to @wehrkampjr, @vikefan50, @bscha12675, @leerm8680, @SKOLVIKES, @klgn, and @lunchpaildt61, who all jumped on board for a chance to have some money go to a good cause. And while again nobody actually me the requirements, I did still donate $50 in their collective honor. (I know that there's seven of them and that $70 might seem more appropriate, but seriously, I'm broke.) So, again, good job guys for participating in a dumb little fun contest for a good cause, and your attempts were not in fail. Not totally in vain anyways.
Ok, so now that those seven are smiling and feeling good about themselves, allow me to ruin the rest of their day. For those of you who were not mentioned above, I'm going to ruin your day, too.
There are two things at this point that need to be said, and they are not so much based off of my Viking Fan Pessimism Disorder (VFPD- real disease, still p.o.'ed Wikipedia deleted the entry I wrote for it) but pure unbiased logic. Thing the first is that the Vikings are not, I repeat, are not going to the playoffs this year. I know that 5-4 isn't a terrible record at this time of year per se, and that lots of teams have gone to the playoffs- hell, even to the Super Bowl itself- with that kind of record. However, those teams generally played better in those 9 games than we have been.
Yes, the San Francisco game was awesome, plain and simple. That was a playoff team. The team that throttled the Titans, and the team that overcame 0 offensive touchdowns to beat the Lions, those were playoff teams. (Although maybe we should have freaked out more about said TD problem with the Lions.) Plain and simple, the team that existed on the field for the other 6 games, even for the win against the lowly Jaguars or the sloppy showing against the crashing Cardinals, was not a playoff team.
And perhaps most importantly in that assessment is the past four games. Except for the practically ‘gimme' win against the Cardinals, this team has been convincingly beaten by teams that may not even be playoff caliber teams themselves. Teams do overcome slow starts all the time; we were all willing to overlook the unnecessarily tight win over the Jags and equally tight loss against the Colts while believing a few weeks back that the impossible had become possible.
And sometimes- rarely, but sometimes- teams do overcome mid-season slumps. Just look at last year's Giants. Of course, there's a huge difference (well, a few actually, but we're just going to focus on this one) between us and last year's Super Bowl champions: the existence of an elite-level quarterback.
And that leads me to the second point that must be said. I've been hot-and-cold for Christian Ponder ever since he was drafted. (And yes, of all the QBs who were available in that draft, I believed Ponder was our best bet.) And when I've been cold, I've reeled myself back and chose to believe I was being unnecessarily harsh on the young man, the second year QB. Returning to that Eli Manning fellow, he did not have the most auspicious start in the NFL.
But it's just uncontroversial to me at this point: Christian Ponder is not our QBOTF.
Is it still very early in his development? Yes. Is his O-line and protection in general collapsing at key points in games? Yes. Are his receivers getting consistently open? No. Is the play calling at times questionable at best? Yes.
But it's just hard for me to believe that the Ponder we saw just over a month ago would have actually been a part of a losing team yesterday. The Ponder who played against the 49ers could have beaten the Seahawks. Now, that stadium is hell on earth in terms of home field advantage; even in the height of my optimistic euphoria this season I actually penciled the Vikings in for a loss this week because of that. But I also didn't expect to see rookie-form Adrian Peterson in this game. And while the defense wasn't doing us a ton of favors today, I still think a better QB could have led us to a win.
The thing is I'm not blaming Ponder for everything that goes wrong. The offense is- again outside of Adrian Peterson- failing to click in general. The O-line has taken a step back. Jerome Simpson isn't exactly the downfield true deep threat we were all crossing our fingers for. Even Percy Harvin, Mr. Reliable himself, was hampered by an injury and had two uncharacteristic mistakes.
But there are still things that should not be happening. I could go on and on but I'm going to focus on one key play here, a play that all-around was actually a success. With the pocket collapsing and no receivers getting open, Ponder turned, saw AP wide open on the sideline, and chucked him the ball. AP made the catch, showed typical herculean effort in getting the first down, and even cost the Seahawks a timeout thanks to a poor decision to challenge the spot. Again, by all standards, a successful play.
But just look at the throw. It was terrible, and for not a lot of good reasons. Peterson had to work far too hard to make that catch, with nobody in between him and Ponder. And it was one of those ‘dink and dunk' passes that, while somewhat maligned for, were Ponder's bread and butter early on in the season.
That troubles me. It troubles me that such an easy pass by all accounts was made to look difficult. It wasn't and shouldn't have looked like it. It should have been the quick and easy dump off, the smart play to forego immediate glory and just snag the first down to fight another day. And far worse is the fact that it's a pass Ponder would have made in his sleep not too long ago. That, my friends... is regression. And a quarterback of the future should not be, would not be (in my opinion), showing that level of regression.
Ponder looked better when running than when throwing today. If we're going to do that, then why not just toss Joe Webb in, amiright?
What, I'm not?
See, this discussion must now take another turn. If Ponder is just clearly not the answer this franchise needs at QB, then logically, its Webb time. Or not.
At this point in the season, with a nightmare schedule looming, there are only two reasons to start Joe Webb. Reason the first is that we believe Webb can develop into a true franchise signal-caller. If that's the case, we had no business drafting Ponder in the first place. Reason the second is that, true QBOTF or not, the coaching staff believes Webb can at least salvage the season for a playoff run. And if that's the case, then he should have been in at halftime against the Seahawks.
I know some here- including my own esteemed colleague Mr. MarkSP18- dislike the notion of blind faith in the coaching staff/ FO. And I can agree with that to an extent. Just as I'm not blindly trusting Ponder, neither should I blindly trust the guys who run the ship. That said, I do choose regardless to trust that they know things, have seen things, which we neither know nor have seen. There's a reason that Ponder is the starter and not Webb, a reason it's been like that since kickoff against the Jaguars. Heck, we saw part of that reason in the preseason: Webb, plain and simple, stunk.
"But KJSegall," you exclaim. "What about the Tuesday miracle against the Eagles? The denied victory against the Lions? Webb has shown the ability in the REAL NFL!"
Ah, but you forget something- something that it seems wayyyy too many, even FO staffs themselves, forget. Backup quarterbacks often look much better in relief than they do as starters. I'll even count the Eagles game in 2010 as a ‘relief' role for Webb because let's face it, everyone on earth expected Brett Favre to be the starter.
Why is that? Well, it's somewhat similar to the reason many rookie QBs- actually, many rookie NFL players in general- have great freshman campaigns and then suffer sophomore slumps: lack of tape and preparation. See, when a team game plans around one QB, and then are faced with a different one- even worse, one who is the polar opposite of the one they've prepared for- their defense can suffer big time. Game plan for Brett Favre, who makes all of his plays (for better or worse) with his arm, but face Joe Webb... who makes all of his plays with his legs? Your defense is going to suffer. You don't know who you're facing or what they're going to do. It's the reason Cam Newton rose to such heights last year only to crash and burn this year. It's the reason the Cardinals believed Kevin Kolb was an actual #1 QB, and were badly burned for it. It's the reason I called for the early demise of Michael Vick after 2010, and was proven right.
Take Ponder out of a game at the halfway point, with the score still within reach, and yes- Joe Webb could, in fact, win that game for you. Make the next team on the schedule uncertain who they're facing, maybe he could even eke out a second win.
But the more and more Webb starts and plays, the more game tape opposing D's will have on him. The more they'll plan and prepare and design plays for him. And the more he will not win.
I think Webb, thanks to his unique athletic skill set, makes for the absolute ideal backup QB (see the reasons listed above). But I firmly believe that if the coaching staff has not pulled the trigger yet, it's because they know he could not win long-term. And I firmly believe that in part because of what I saw in preseason.
The only possible reason to start Webb over Ponder is a third reason I failed to mention earlier: if the competition could be believed to spark Ponder alive, to bring him out of his slump. But I also do not believe that will happen. This is a player playing timid, worried, already fearing his own mistakes and miscues. Benching him will destroy him, in my opinion. That may not be the best thing I could ever say about a QB but I believe it nonetheless.
So, really- there's just no point in throwing out Webb. Maybe we could pick up a win or two we wouldn't have gotten otherwise with him, but to what point and purpose? We're not a win or two away from being in the playoffs- we need a lot more than that. And by using him now and giving teams extra tape on him, we dilute some of his potency should we ever need it in an instance where that win or two could vault us to the next level. He's our ace-up-the-sleeve, but just for one hand; not the whole tournament. So better to save it for when the pot's really big.
Which leads to the logical conclusion of this discussion: so what now? I don't know. If Ponder's not the answer, if Webb's not the answer, then what? Chances are Ponder will finish the season out, barring injury, just like Frazier said. Without any point or purpose in doing anything different, we might as well dance with the date we brought, and hope that naysayers like myself are proven wrong. Perhaps the more troubling thing is the ‘what if' long term. If Ponder is indeed more Mark Sanchez than Eli Manning, then we need not waste as long as the Jets have on the experiment. But what will the options be? Maybe I'm missing someone- certainly I'm not the draft guru around these parts- but aside from Matt Barkley (who has mixed reviews anyways), I don't see a signal caller in the upcoming draft we could/ should take. Even if you believe in Barkley we're not getting him; 5 wins is far too many for the #1 pick (or even the #2 pick should he fall for whatever reason). And I don't think we're going to find ourselves in a Redskins-Rams trade position, either.
Next year's FA doesn't hold a gem like Peyton Manning, either. Which is unfortunate because we truly have returned to 2008- just a solid QB away from great things. Yes, we're missing a true #1 WR, but I think a great QB could make do with what we've got for now. (Hell, we didn't have a true #1 WR in 2008 either; remember, Sidney Rice sucked back then.) Someone like Manning could have bought us 3-4 years of solid greatness until we find the true QBOTF; but what-ifs just suck so we're going to stop there.
So what now? I don't know. I don't know what the rest of 2012 holds for us, but I don't think it's good things. And I haven't a clue whatsoever what 2013 holds. G-d forbid Percy Harvin sees the situation as dismally as I do and decides to pull a Rice on us.
All I do know- and I hate to end this on this note- is that Ponder surely doesn't seem to be the answer anymore. Sorry dude. You seem like a great guy; but then again, I think Tim Tebow's probably a great guy too. (Anyone who mentions picking him up will be banned. With a hot iron poker.) I wish Ponder the best; more so, I wish he'd prove me wrong and make me eat the paper this story could be printed on. But I just don't think so anymore.