EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Christian Ponder might have his chance at redemption.
Ponder, the embattled third-year quarterback for the
Minnesota Vikings, is “more than likely” to start Sunday night
against the Green Bay Packers, coach Leslie Frazier said after Josh Freeman
reported concussion-like symptoms Tuesday.
Freeman, who started his first game for Minnesota on Monday
night since signing with the team two weeks ago, will need to go through the concussion testing
protocol. He had assumed the starting role
over Ponder and Matt Cassel, but Frazier said the team will have to “proceed
as if he’s not going to make it.”
“Well, the fact that (Freeman is) not able to practice
today and you lose today on a short week, makes it tough,” Frazier said. “We
need to get Christian ready to go.”
Frazier said tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) and Matt Asiata
wouldn’t practice Wednesday because of their injuries, but the loss of Freeman
continues the rotation among Minnesota’s quarterbacks. Freeman became the third
Vikings’ starting quarterback this season and 11th since Daunte Culpepper
suffered a devastating knee injury in 2005.
“At that quarterback position, you want to know who’s going to be lining
up week in and week out,” Frazier said. “But that’s the circumstance
where we are and Christian will do a good job for us on Sunday night.”
Ponder entered this season as the unquestioned starter for the Vikings — a
pivotal year for his evaluation in the team’s eyes. Then Ponder had five
interceptions and two lost fumbles as Minnesota lost the first three games of
the season. Ponder said he feels more relaxed now.
“I think I was playing with a lot of pressure on myself
before and never felt in sync,” Ponder said. “Now is the opportunity
to take that deep breath and go out and have fun again. I already got benched,
so it can’t get worse than that.”
Ponder lost his starting job after suffering a broken rib.
Cassel started the next two games, the second after Ponder had returned to
health. Then Freeman was signed and the plan was for Freeman to start the rest
of the season.
Ponder returned to the backup role behind Freeman last week,
leaping ahead of Cassel again in the quarterback hierarchy and gets the chance
to start again this week.
“It’s been an interesting ride,” Ponder said of
the past four weeks. “Obviously it swung away from me, it swings back and
it’s time to grab ahold of it and not let it swing away from me again. It’s
been obviously up and down. I think it’s true to say that I was frustrated and
down, but I didn’t let that affect me. I know this is an opportunity to step
back and improve on some things and I did. It’s got to translate out to the
field though. I’m excited.”
Freeman’s debut with the Vikings on Monday night was a rough one as he went
20-of-53 passing for 190 yards and threw one interception. Frazier said Freeman
would remain the starter, but then the quarterback came in Tuesday afternoon
and complained of concussion-like symptoms.
Freeman told Frazier the symptoms might have been caused by
a hit he took in the third quarter Monday night, but Freeman didn’t tell the
team of any issues until Tuesday.
“He didn’t mention to me or anyone else,” Frazier
said of Freeman having issues Monday. “He did say after one of the hits in
the third that’s when he felt like something may not have been right. That’s
what he told me this morning. But there was nothing on the sideline or during
the game to make us go ask him, ‘are you alright?'”
Ponder had the best single game of his career the last time
he faced Green Bay. In the regular-season finale last year, with a playoff spot
on the line, Ponder threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-34 win for
Minnesota. The 120.2 quarterback rating was the best single-game rating of his
Ponder never built off that last game though, struggling in
the first three games this season. Maybe stepping back and getting the chance
to watch from the sideline will be beneficial to Ponder.
“Any time you have to take a back seat and you have to
sit down for a minute, it gives you time to reflect and I think that he’s done
that,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “I think that he’s seen how
important it is to play at a high level at that position. But even more
importantly, how important that position is to the overall success of the team
and what it takes to actually hold that position.
“It’s not just about your quarterback play, it’s about
how you lead off the field as well. So, and on the field, how you command the
huddle, how you demand things of your teammates, I think he’s had an
opportunity to see that.”
“I want to be on the field, and this is my opportunity
to get back out there again,” Ponder said. “I think it was good for
me to kind of take a step back for a couple weeks and take a deep breath and
learn from those first three games and get out there and play better. I’m
excited for this opportunity. What a great way to come back out against the
Packers at home. It’ll be fun.”
Frazier said he hopes Ponder plays well Sunday and he isn’t
thinking about who will start in the future. Ponder sees his chance at earning
back his starting spot.
“It’s an opportunity to get back in the saddle and be
more vocal and take a hold of this position because I don’t want to give it
back,” Ponder said.