EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Christian Ponder returns to the scene this week, Soldier Field, where his NFL career began in earnest.
It was last October when Ponder, then a green rookie, replaced an ineffective Donovan McNabb at the start of the fourth quarter in a 39-10 loss to the Chicago Bears. Ponder was 9 of 17 for 99 yards passing in the quarter and his ascension to the starting spot was set in motion.
Now, with 20 starts under his belt as the Minnesota Vikings’ present, and hopeful future, at quarterback, Ponder knows he’s a different player than the raw rookie unexpectedly pushed into action.
“A lot’s changed since then,” Ponder said. Ponder’s rollercoaster career is still going through its peaks and dives as he continues his development. In 21 career games, Ponder has shown the good and bad of a young quarterback. He owns a career 78.0 quarterback rating while completing 60 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns to 21 interceptions. But the numbers have improved this season and he enters Sunday’s game at Chicago on a high point after the win against the Detroit Lions before the bye week.
Ponder was able to reflect a bit on his first regular-season action over a year and more when he met with the Minnesota media on Wednesday for his weekly press conference:
1. Do you have good vibrations about your debut there and that night?
PONDER: Yeah, I just remember, obviously we were getting beat pretty well, pretty good and coach Frazier came up to me and was like, “Hey, we’re going to put you in.” So, really excited. I thought I played pretty well and obviously ended up getting the start afterward. But it will be good to get back out there and have a different outcome.
2. Do you remember things like the first completion, any firsts?
PONDER: Nah, I remember I had a few good completions. I remember completing a longer ball, I think it was third-and-long, to Percy, converting on first down; converting on first down on third-and-long to Greg Camarillo, which was a pretty good throw. Nah, I felt like I went out there and played pretty well.
3. Turnovers are the hallmark for the Bears’ defense. What do you have to do even more so to protect the ball?
PONDER: Obviously they’re very opportunistic, but I don’t think we’re going to do anything different. I think, we can’t play scared. We’ve got to go out and be aggressive and just be smart. But like you said, they thrive on turnovers and they’ve scored a lot of points off of it. We have to be smart with the ball.
4. You looked more comfortable in the pocket against Detroit, how much of that was a byproduct of the line tightening up or you being more assertive?
PONDER: I think it was both. I think the line definitely played really well, but for me in the past few weeks it was an emphasis on staying in the pocket and moving around in the pocket rather than trying to escape early. Just tried to stay in there and did so, and I think it’s something I’m growing more comfortable with.”
5. This six-game finishing stretch can seem pretty daunting if you look at it, but it seems internally that there’s a willingness to embrace it as a major opportunity. How do you guys sort of process that as you go into this meaningful stretch?
PONDER: For us it’s a matter of excitement right now. We’re excited at this opportunity that we’re playing for a playoff spot and we’re playing for a lead in the division, and to win the division. Yeah, it’s tough and we knew that. But no matter how the games are spread out throughout the whole season, we were going to have to play them at some point. It’s just a matter of it being at the end of the season, and I guess that’s even better because it is November and December where we see the light at the end of the tunnel where the playoffs are coming up. I think that makes us even more motivated.