Without a doubt, the biggest key to how the Minnesota Vikings will fare in 2012. . .and for the next several years going forward. . .is the play of quarterback Christian Ponder. After being thrown into the fire in 2011 after the failure of the Donovan McNabb experiment, Ponder had his ups and downs during his rookie season. He also spent quite a bit of time on the bench after taking some really nasty shots and winding up unable to continue. . .I recall at least three games in 2011 that were finished by Joe Webb instead of Ponder (at Detroit, at Washington, and against Chicago at home).
This season, armed with 15 more pounds of muscle and a full off-season to actually work with coaches and teammates (remember, he didn't take a practice snap with the first team offense in 2011 until the week he was named the starter), Christian Ponder took the field on Sunday against Jacksonville with critics to silence and something to prove. For the most part, I believe he did that, and that's something to celebrate.
Ponder got off to a rough start, connecting on only three of his first seven passes, including one that hit Jaguars safety Chris Prosinski right in the chest and should have been an interception. However, starting at the end of the second quarter and through the rest of the game, Ponder was red hot. Between the 2:28 mark of the second quarter (when the Vikings' final drive of the first half began) and the end of the game, Ponder threw only three incompletions, hitting on 17 of his final 20 pass attempts.
Ponder was, by and large, very smart with the football on Sunday afternoon. Once he got settled in, he made good decisions, and made big plays in big situations when he had to. In the second half, the Vikings only punted the ball one time. That was on their second-to-last drive of regulation, and Ponder wasn't asked to throw a pass on that drive (the Vikings ran the ball three straight times in an effort to kill clock).
After the Jaguars scored and it looked like the Vikings were in trouble, he hit two huge passes, particularly the big one to Devin Aromashodu to get the Vikings into Jaguars territory and set up Blair Walsh's game-tying field goal. Ponder then connected on all three of his pass attempts in overtime and, with a big assist from Adrian Peterson, set up Walsh's game-winner from 38 yards out. He finished the game with a quarterback rating of 105.5, the highest of his young career.
Yes, people can go on all they want about how the Jaguars aren't a very good team (though I think they're a heck of a lot better than most folks want to give them credit for, particularly if Blaine Gabbert continues to show what he showed on Sunday). But Christian Ponder made the big plays for the Minnesota Vikings when he had to on Sunday afternoon, and made some progress towards being the franchise quarterback that the Vikings (and their fans) all badly want him to be.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is something to celebrate.