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The High Point of the Low Point? The Start of a New Era.

This is what the Vikings' first-round draft pick Christian Ponder looks like upright. You might not see him this way again until the Vikings draft a good left tackle in 2012.
This is what the Vikings' first-round draft pick Christian Ponder looks like upright. You might not see him this way again until the Vikings draft a good left tackle in 2012.

On the off chance you've been wondering why I've been so scarce here at DN lately, it's largely because finding time to write now that my twenty-two-month-old niece is in residence has been a challenge. Yesterday I tried to check my email and she commandeered my laptop so she could watch Elmo videos. Have you ever tried to get between a toddler and Elmo videos? I wouldn't recommend it. During the Vikings' loss in Kansas City, baby girl decided to feed me crackers during a critical Vikings' fourth down situation. When I'm trying to read the sports page this fiendishly cute, blue-eyed, blond-curled monster interrupts me for an alphabet sing-off. To say that my focus is split is something of an understatement. I have no idea how my very efficient sister gets anything done with this little kid around.

So that's my excuse for my lack of football focus, but I have no idea what the Minnesota Vikings' excuse is for Sunday night's blowout 39-10 loss to the Chicago Bears. The visiting Vikings weren't able to do the things that they normally do well, like stopping opposing running games, and the Bears were good at things they have struggled with previously this season, like protecting Jay Cutler. It was all of the bad things you might expect, like Devin Hester returning the ball for a touchdown, with relatively little of the good stuff Vikings fans have been crossing their fingers and hoping for.

Against the Arizona Cardinals on week five, the Vikings seemed to take a step forward as a team--winning will do that. However, after seeing how they played Sunday night against the Bears I can't help wondering if the Arizona game was more the result of the Cardinals collapsing than the Vikings stepping up. Facing a 1-5 season full of inconsistency, the Vikings' next opponent will be the consistently successful Green Bay Packers.

And, it's into that emotionally charged atmosphere against divisional rivals who just happen to be the reigning Super Bowl champions, that Christian Ponder will get his first NFL start. Swell.

More after the jump.

At the beginning of the season I was okay with the idea of using Donovan McNabb as a stopgap. Given the Vikings' offensive line troubles, I wasn't crazy about the idea of the Vikings putting their quarterback of the future out there to be pummeled into hamburger by opposing defenses before he even gets his feet under him. But six weeks into the season with the Vikings in the NFC North basement, McNabb hasn't proven himself as a solid game manager, let alone someone who could make a miracle happen and turn this season around. Not only that, but the poor guy has gotten so unpopular with Vikings fans that McNabb has replaced Bernard Berrian as the face you'd most like to see on a milk carton all without being snide to a war hero legislator who supports the Vikings' stadium efforts.

Last Sunday when the Vikings put in Christian Ponder in the fourth quarter I got the feeling that McNabb, except in the case of Ponder being injured, was done for the season. Unless the landscape of the NFC North changes dramatically because a meteor hits both the Packers and Lions' team planes, the chances of the Vikings being in contention for even a playoff Wild Card slot are nil. The Vikings might as well see what Ponder can do--it isn't as if he's going to ass up a winning season.

I don't think even the sunniest optimist out there expects Ponder to be able to suddenly lead the Vikings to winning record, but with a rookie, even with a loss you can see hope for improvement and positives. Right now, that's more than we had with McNabb as starter. It's a reason to get excited, interested at the least, in the future of the franchise.

The Vikings desperately need their fans to believe the franchise is improving and that there are positives to be seen. With the press for a new stadium heading into the final stretch, Governor Mark Dayton has called for a special session of the Minnesota legislature to address the stadium proposal. One would hope that the legislators aren't going to vote for or against a stadium based on the teams record or the current popularity of the starting quarterback, but it still doesn't look good for the team to have an all-out fan revolt.

The decision to start Christian Ponder on Sunday against the Packers does more than just create interest and prevent Donovan McNabb from being beaten to death with Helga horns, it lowers expectations. The Vikings organization brought in a veteran quarterback because they said that with the talent currently on the roster the Vikings could still be competitive. Starting a rookie quarterback, no matter how the Vikings might try to spin it, says rebuilding. Fans aren't surprised by losing records during rebuilding seasons.

So, if the cute blond tyrant (a.k.a. baby niece) allows it, I'm going to lower my expectations and enjoy seeing Christian Ponder start a new era for the Vikings. Could it really be any worse than the previous one?