Christian Ponder's Legacy Begins Sunday

Bob Levey

How Ponder and the Vikings do Sunday will carry over into next year, either way.

When Christian Ponder was drafted with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, he was tapped to be ‘the guy' at quarterback for the next decade or so. All the labor issues that followed prevented Ponder from getting a full off-season of mini camps and OTA's, and he came in to camp as the #2 guy behind Donovan McNabb.

As McNabb faltered and the season went from one of guarded optimism to full disaster, the Vikings threw Ponder into the fire. He had some decent games, some awful games, and some in between. He also struggled with a hip injury, and 2011 ended with a miserable 3-13 record. But no one was really tough on Ponder-he was a rookie, he had no protection from an atrocious offensive line, and he never really got a lot of practice to run the offense as a starter until he got put into the lineup.

2012 has been different, though. Ponder came in to camp as the unquestioned starter. With a full off-season of minicamps. OTA's, and a full training camp, it was expected that he would lead the Vikings and become a franchise quarterback.

The jury is still out on that. Ponder's supporters look to a 9-6 record with only a win against Green Bay on Sunday standing between them and the playoffs. No one thought the Vikings would be in this position, but here they are. In the 9 wins the Vikings have, Ponder has been an efficient quarterback. He has a high completion percentage, doesn't turn the ball over much, and has a penchant for bringing the team back when behind. Let's break down his stats between the 9 wins and 6 losses. First, the wins:

Games

Comp

Att

Yds

TD

INT

9

158

243

1512

8

5

Of those 5 picks, 4 came in two games-Tennessee and Arizona, and Arizona was probably his worst game of the year. His average stat line in those 9 wins is a 17/27 (65%), 168 yards, one TD and just over half an interception a game. For a second year guy playing on a team that is run first, that's not bad.

Now let's look at his stats in the six losses:

Games

Comp

Att

Yds

TD

INT

6

126

212

1189

5

7

An average stat line for him in the six losses is 21/35 (60%), 198 yards, just under 1 TD pass and 1+ interception in a game. The turnovers go up dramatically, as do the pass attempts, with not much of an increase in yardage. Basically, the Vikings win if the running game is clicking and Ponder throws the ball 25 times or less. The Vikings lose if Ponder has to throw it more than 30 times a game.

And that stat line in the Vikings wins is something I can live with every day, as long as the Vikings are getting solid production from the run. But his detractors look at that stat line in those six losses, three of which were winnable games (Indy, Seattle, Green Bay) and see a guy that cannot make plays with his arm.

The fact that he's had more good games than bad games tells me he is progressing, and after a bad game, he bounces back and puts in a solid effort. He's had two solid games in a row, but it all comes down to Sunday.

All of this that we talked about doesn't matter, though. How he does on Sunday will determine the narrative about his career moving forward. His previous 20-something starts no longer matter. His late game heroics against Jacksonville and nine wins no longer matter. His shitfests in Chicago and Seattle no longer matter.

What matters is how he does in division games in December with the playoffs on the line.

Win with a good performance, and the narrative is that this kid can deliver in clutch situations and win big games when he needs to.

Lose this game, and the narrative becomes Ponder is a noodle armed QB who can't win big games, and a loss will haunt this team for the entire off-season.

And there's no debate in that.

No pressure, kid. Good luck.

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