Part of me wants to write and post this. Part of me really does not. See, there are two schools of thought here, and neither is wrong- just different. School of thought the first is that GOOD DEAR SWEET LORD IN HEAVEN ARE WE TIRED OF TALKING ABOUT PONDER. School of thought the second is that he's our QB, currently as of this writing our franchise QB, face of the organization and the man who holds the keys to the kingdom wherein our hopes and dreams lie, and therefore deserves as much scrutiny and talk as is desired (holy run on sentence Batman!).
Of course, as Chris pointed out last week, HE deserves the scrutiny... not his wife. And neither deserve death threats or rape threats or whatever disgusting vitriol Twitter can seem to muster. For G-d's sake, people.
The other reason I'm not sure I want to post this is the fact that I can't seem to get around the fact that it comes to entirely negative conclusions. Not just about Ponder, but also about the Vikings and their immediate future. Now you can call me a mindless pessimist, which to a degree (especially when it comes to professional football teams in Minnesota) can be true. But this is just how I see it, and once again, try as I might I can't get around it.
To begin, while the Vikings haven't exactly played inspiring football at almost any position thus far (Kevin Williams and Harrison Smith aside), there's no denying that had Ponder played to the ceiling of his potential throughout the last two games we would be 2-0. Yes, you can say the same about our DEF, our play calling, etc., but you know how it goes in football- when you win, all the glory goes to the QB and when you lose they get all the blame. And while that is often taken to downright silly levels at time there is a reason for it. Maybe we're just having an all-around bad year (thus far anyways) as a football team, and Ponder as a member of said team is therefore also having a bad season start. But quarterbacks, even just good but not necessarily great quarterbacks, are supposed to step up in those situations and lift them above all that. Football is a team sport, and it's true that Peyton Manning aside, quarterbacks at any skill level on terrible teams cannot win games alone. But you cannot deny that for all of the overall mistakes that the team has made as a unit, Ponder has had chances to lead them to win games despite it. And he has not done that.
Furthermore, Ponder is now in his third year. As had been pointed out ad naseum by haters and lovers alike, this is the year where Ponder either takes the job long-term or loses it completely. Last season he had an absurdly long leash; the man couldn't get benched if he was actively trying. This year not so much. The bench has a spot with his nameplate on it, and it's up to him and him alone to stay off of it. Frazier's not going to wager his job against it anymore, Spielman's not going to call down to prevent it. So just how much has Ponder done for himself?
Yesterday after the game I tweeted out that there are two undeniable things about Ponder: first, that had he not had such a shaky start, we would have won. And second, that had he not picked it up in the second half*, we would have been blown out. Which means he's earned squat: neither a spot on the bench, nor any extra job security than he already had.
*I suppose technically he picked it up prior to the half as he had a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph. At least that's the rumor anyways. I WOULDN'T KNOW NOW WOULD I, NFL ON FOX.
So congratulations Ponder, you managed to hold off Matt Cassel. For now. Of course, that's not exactly what you want in a starter- holding off a washed up backup who flunked out of his last job- now is it? Especially that whole "for now" part. After that nasty INT prior to picking it up I really thought we were going to see Cassel out on the field at some point. Ponder had been flat outright terrible up until that, and it was the cherry on the s*** sundae. (BTW yes I totally failed at that point to keep my Twitter account clean. Oh well.) I was frankly surprised to see him even back on the field after that, but fortunately it proved to be the right call.
Of course, your franchise QB shouldn't need to suck it up half the game and then throw a brutal pick-6 in order to snap out of a funk and pull things together. Maybe that will carry over into the next few games and we'll be solid, but I'm not sure. Quite frankly if Ponder keeps playing at the overall level he has been playing, then he'll keep earning himself the next start over and over- but not a thing past the end of the season.
Even after last year, which he capped with a very impressive performance in Green Bay, he had really only earned a continuation in large part to his youth. Having wrapped up only his second season and his first as a starter, he had done just enough to warrant us continuing the experiment. But at this rate many of us are looking at the draft, and that includes those of us who don't want to. In all likelihood, looking across the league, we're going to have to make some serious moves to get a good signal caller under center. The Jaguars and Raiders will likely have two of the best QBs in the draft, and we won't be able to trade anything to change that. (There is an outside chance with the Raiders. They're not smart. Sorry grampa.) Nobody wants to do that- we have plenty of other holes on this team to fill. And while initially I felt that maybe we could snatch Josh Freeman and skip the draft part I no longer feel that way after having watched the Tampa Bay- New Orleans game last night. (As an aside my parents were there, so I avoided the typical ritual where I make 27 sacrifices to various deities for an asteroid to hit the field. But there's always the rematch in NO.)
But we're two games down in a sixteen game season, and Ponder's window to prove that he deserves his long term shot is rapidly shutting. At this current point, the best I can say for us and Ponder is that he will likely snag us a low-level draft pick in a trade. What you say? Well in my humble opinion, I think he'd make a good read-option backup. Dude has legs, we've all known that for a while and he showed it off yesterday. If there's one thing he does well fairly consistently, its scramble and go for it with decent success. He may not be RGIII pre-surgery, but if you're San Fran, Washington, or even... say it with me... Seattle, you might be intrigued**. And we'll need that ammo if we're moving up to take our next QB.
**Dude, how much would it suck for Tavaris Jackson if Ponder took another one of his jobs? At that point I wouldn't blame him for lighting a bag of his own turds on fire at the Ponders' doorstep and ringing the bell. Probably wouldn't even run away after either- would just stare Ponder in the eyes as he ruins his shoes putting that thing out.
The thing that bothers me about drafting another QB, aside from how much that's ultimately going to cost us, is this front office's recent quarterback-selecting history. See, this is the group that drafted Ponder, picked Donovan McNabb to be his "mentor" and the bridge to the Ponder era, and then figured that Joe Webb would be a better backup than Sage Rosenfels. Not to mention I think we overpaid for Matt Cassel, but I suppose that's up for debate. While I like Leslie Frazier as a HC and generally like Rick Spielman as a GM (except for Antoine Winfield), I'm not sure I trust their QB scouting acumen.
Right now we're 1/8th through the season, and Ponder is making it more and more apparent that we're going to have to go back to the drawing board. Love him or hate him, blame him too much or too little, and I'm not sure how you can argue that. You can say the DEF isn't doing him any favors, except they got him the ball back from the Bears three times yesterday. (Yes they had 4 turnovers but one was for a score, so Ponder actually didn't get the ball back.) You can say Adrian Peterson is having a (for him) slow start to the season, except he's still playing as exactly the top-tier RB he is. You can say the O-line is slacking and not doing the job expected, except there are wide open receivers Ponder is missing even when the pocket is exploding into flames. You can say the play calling is at times baffling, except Ponder has the ability to audible out and do something smart based off what he's seeing. The thing is while this team isn't living up to standards all around, Ponder has the ability to do so much more to lift it- and that's what quarterbacks are supposed to do. And he isn't, by and large, fully living up to that ability.
Don't get me wrong, I really- REALLY- want Ponder to succeed. I WANT him to be our long term QB. And I'm not sure how as a Vikings fan you DON'T want that, because if it happens the sky could be the limit for this team. He has shown that he has the ability to be the quarterback we need, and to totally bastardize that famous line, to be the quarterback we fans ABSOLUTELY deserve. But for all he does at times to lift the team, he matches it by dragging us down at other times.
And that makes me horribly pessimistic about the future.