QB Christian Ponder to start, gives Vikes ‘best chance to win’

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The thinly veiled secret is out.

Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Christian Ponder
will start at quarterback on Sunday when Minnesota (1-6) travels to face the
Dallas Cowboys (4-4). Ponder will be making his second straight start after
Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel had started the previous two games.

“You’ve answered it a number of times in your own way,
but Christian is going to start the game for us on Sunday,” Frazier
announced Friday. “I have not talked to the guys about the backup
situation yet. We’re going to go through that when we’re done, but Christian is
going to start.”

All signs had pointed to Ponder starting in his hometown of
Dallas, including receiver Jerome Simpson telling the St. Paul Pioneer Press
that he thought Ponder would start. Frazier had told the team earlier in the
week, but withheld the announcement until Friday hoping for an advantage
against the Cowboys, who lead the NFC East.

Ponder, returning to the lineup after losing his starting
job in September because of a fractured rib, went 14-of-21 passing for 145
yards in Sunday’s loss at Green Bay.

“I know that I have to perform to have myself stay on
the field,” Ponder said. “I don’t know what the plan is after this
week. Just like last week, my future ends after Sunday’s game. I don’t know
what’s going to happen after that. But it’s another opportunity to go out there
and play.”

Sunday’s opportunity wasn’t quite expected for Ponder after
the team signed Freeman in October and the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers
quarterback was starting two weeks after he showed up in Minnesota. But Freeman
struggled in his one start with the Vikings by completing just 20-of-53 passing
for 190 yards and in interception in a loss in a Monday night game against the
New York Giants. He suffered a concussion in the game, opening the door for
Ponder last week.

Freeman has been cleared following concussion testing and
practiced all week, but Frazier decided to stick with Ponder, saying he gives
Minnesota the best chance to be successful against Dallas.

Frazier said he doesn’t have any regrets about starting
Freeman so quickly and wouldn’t acknowledge that going back to Ponder means
Freeman was thrown in too quickly.

“I felt like going in we had a good plan going in for
where he was at that time,” Frazier said. “As I said the day after
the game, we really don’t have any regrets with the decision we made. We felt
like everything we knew and the way he prepared that it was the right decision.
It’s easy to have 20-20 in hindsight, but I know why we made the decision and
felt comfortable with it at the time.”

Since he’s cleared his concussion testing, Freeman has spent
extra time working with quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson during and after
practice. Frazier said Ponder would start this week, but made no declarations
about his starter going forward.

“As always, you’re hoping that a guy will have a great
game and you don’t have to have these conversations going forward,” Frazier
said. “I’m hoping he has a great game on Sunday, and can lead us to
victory and move on from there. It’s just like the rest of our season, it’s one
game at a time for us right now.”

Frazier said he’s only thinking about Sunday in naming
Ponder the starter, but Minnesota has a short week after Sunday’s game with a
home game on Thursday against the Washington Redskins.

“I have to see how this game goes and then discuss what
happens next. I’ve got some thoughts, but they’re distant thoughts. What’s at
the forefront is going up to Dallas and getting a win.”

For Ponder, he has another opportunity to stake claim to the
starting job he held for much of the past three seasons. This season he’s
completed 60.3 percent of his passes and has thrown for 836 yards in four
games, all losses, with two touchdown passes and five interceptions. He’s also
run for three touchdowns, but lost two fumbles.

“It’s a competition every week and it’s going to make
all of us better,” Ponder said. “I think the whole team is handling
it pretty well. My focus is preparing like I was the starter every week
anyways. I’m glad I’m out there this week.”

Ponder knows he could use a defining game, such as the
regular-season finale last year when he had his best game as a pro in a must-win
game to reach the playoffs, passing for 234 yards and three touchdowns against
Green Bay.

“That’d be great,” Ponder said. “The biggest
thing for that would be hopefully get us a win. But again, I’m not trying to
put too much pressure on it. I understand I do need to play well. We need to
get a win, that’s the most important thing. But I do want to be out on the
field and we’ll see what happens.”

Freeman was signed so Minnesota could evaluate him the
remainder of this season and see if he could be the long-term answer at
quarterback. After 29 starts, the Vikings had seemingly finished evaluating
Ponder.

But now Freeman is back behind Ponder and Frazier, in a
precarious spot himself with Minnesota at 1-6 following last year’s playoff
appearance, has to reconcile trying to win now while evaluating Freeman.

“We’re in the business of winning games,” Frazier
said. “Christian gives us the best chance to win and that’s how we’re
going to approach it. Now there may come a point where you have to make a
decision for different reasons, but we’re in a position right now where it’s
purely based on who gives us the best chance to win.”

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