EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Christian Ponder’s season didn’t end the way he or the Minnesota Vikings had hoped, with the quarterback inactive for Saturday’s 24-10 playoff loss. But Ponder will get the chance to lead Minnesota back to the playoffs in 2013.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier confirmed Tuesday during his season-ending press conference that Ponder will be the team’s starting quarterback next season. The 2011 first-round pick ended his second season as the starter on a high note, helping Minnesota to four straight wins to qualify for the playoffs. A deep triceps contusion kept him out of Saturday’s playoff game at Green Bay, with backup Joe Webb struggling in his place.
“We’re excited about his progress,” Frazier said of Ponder. “The way he played down the stretch, he was great. He had a lot to do with us winning those last four games the way we did. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to play that last ballgame up at Lambeau. He wanted to play. He tried everything he could to get on the field. It just wouldn’t have been a wise decision to put him out there with the injury that he had. Just didn’t get the flexion back in that tricep. But he did everything in his powers to get out there.”
Ponder, in his second season after being selected No. 12 overall out of Florida State, ranked 21st in the NFL this season with an 81.2 quarterback rating. On a team built around the running of Adrian Peterson, Ponder completed 62.1 percent of his passes (13th in the NFL) for 2,935 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Frazier was pleased with the improvement Ponder made down the stretch, following a rough midseason performance in which he failed to top 100 yards passing in three games over a seven-week span. With Minnesota in must-win position, Ponder responded in helping the Vikings beat Chicago, St. Louis, Houston and Green Bay over the final four weeks to earn a playoff berth, with Ponder’s best game as a pro coming in the regular-season finale against the Packers.
Ponder was 16 of 28 for 234 yards and three touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception, while posting the best single-game quarterback rating of his short NFL career (120.2). But he suffered a bad bruise on his triceps after taking a hit from the helmet of Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett on a blitz and was unable to play in Saturday’s game. Ponder said Monday that the muscle had shut down, causing him to lose velocity and flexibility in his throwing arm.
With the progress shown this year, Ponder enters the offseason as the unquestioned starter.
“His rehab, his work ethic was tremendous,” Frazier said. “So we’re pleased with the progress that he’s made. We saw glimpses of what he can bring to our football team and the way he led us down the stretch, you feel like you’ve got a chance to win every game when your quarterback plays the way he played. So we’re excited about his development and looking forward to him getting better this offseason.”
Frazier was less committal on whether Webb will be the backup for Ponder after going 11 of 30 passing for 180 yards a touchdown and two turnovers in Saturday’s loss.
“It was a tough day for Joe, tough day all the way around,” Frazier said. “Put in a tough situation having to go start a playoff game in that environment against a good football team. We still have a lot of confidence in Joe. We understand the circumstances he played in. He’ll be a guy that will compete for the No. 2 spot again next year, barring something that we may end up doing in our personnel meetings. But we’ll discuss Joe’s position and everyone’s position in our personnel meetings and then we’ll make a decision what’s best.”
Frazier, Wilfs haven’t talked contract extension: Frazier has one more season remaining on the three-year contract he signed in January 2011 to be Minnesota’s head coach. After a 3-13 first season, Frazier rallied his team to 10-6 this year and a playoff appearance for the first time since 2009.
Frazier said he hasn’t talked with Vikings’ owners Zygi and Mark Wilf but plans to over the coming days.
“Eventually we will talk, and I’m not worried about it,” Frazier said. “Things will work out just fine. Not worried at all.”
Frazier said he hasn’t spoken with his agent yet about an extension but that he received positive feedback during the season from the Wilfs.
“I’ve been told a number of times from Mark and Zygi and (general manager) Rick (Spielman) they are pleased with the job we’ve done this season,” Frazier said. “I’m very appreciative of their support throughout the year. Very appreciative.”
Kluwe to have surgery: Frazier said punter Chris Kluwe will have surgery soon to repair the meniscus in his left, non-kicking knee as part of a few injury situations the team is keeping an eye on. Defensive end Jared Allen is the only other player right now who is expected to have surgery. Allen will have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder that he dealt with all season.
Frazier said the team will also keep an eye on running back Adrian Peterson’s lingering abdominal injury.
“Adrian is going to be evaluated for that core muscle issue that he had,” Frazier said. “After the Pro Bowl, he’ll get evaluated there.”
Frazier said Ponder will continue receiving treatment for his triceps contusion. The coach also said cornerback Antoine Winfield’s broken hand is healing and won’t need surgery. Linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, too, is trying to recover from a shoulder injury that won’t need surgery.
Frazier said none of the injuries or recovery should linger into training camp next season.