Joe Webb’s size and athletic ability tantalized former Minnesota Vikings’ coach Brad Childress, the type of talent that can tease NFL coaches and is hard to give up on. Minnesota drafted Webb in the sixth round of the 2010 draft out of Alabama-Birmingham and had decided to turn the former college quarterback into a wide receiver.
The 6-foot-4 Webb is big, strong and fast and was the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000-plus yards and run for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons. Childress’ infatuation with Webb was adopted by Vikings’ fans after Childress was fired with six games left in the 2010 season and interim coach Leslie Frazier fueled the fire, unexpectedly, after Webb led Minnesota to a big win at Philadelphia.
The calls for Joe Webb had maintained since then. The clamoring for Webb among fans hit a fever pitch this season as Christian Ponder — the chosen franchise quarterback by the Vikings’ new regime — struggled and Minnesota’s playoff hopes seemed to slip. After a promising start to his second season, Ponder, the first-round 2011 draft pick, seemed to regress before the fans’ very eyes.
Turnovers mounted for Ponder after he went without a turnover the first four weeks. Twice in three weeks, Ponder finished with 63 passing yards or fewer. His once sparkling completion percentage and quarterback rating plummeted as Minnesota lost four of five games.
Fans wanted to see Webb. Minnesota’s brass and coach Leslie Frazier never relented. Frazier reiterated his support of Ponder.
And now we all know why.
Webb was a backup for a reason. Even as the season seemed to be slipping away, Frazier stuck with Ponder and was rewarded as his play rebounded while winning the final four games of the regular season to earn a playoff berth. Meanwhile, Webb stayed on the bench, only taking three snaps all year in a big early-season win against Tennessee in which he had two handoffs and a kneel-down.
Everyone that had wanted to see Webb earlier in the year got the chance to see him in another critical season-saving spot on Saturday. Playing for an injured Ponder, in Saturday night’s playoff 24-10 playoff loss at Green Bay, Webb looked confused, indecisive and not ready for his latest chance. Once believed a savior, Webb faltered in his biggest spot.
The fans that called for him were ready to see someone else — namely little-known and inexperienced third-stringer McLeod Bethel-Thompson — as Webb went 3 of 12 for 22 yards passing in the first half Saturday night as the Vikings playoffs appeared over as soon as they started. Finally, the desire to see Webb, the fascination with his physical gifts was over.
One certainty from Minnesota’s loss Saturday night is that there will be no more calls for Webb. Ponder’s reputation and following amongst the fans rose with each Webb misfired pass.
Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman didn’t need Saturday’s game to entrust their future, for now, to Ponder. But fans know understand why the Vikings never gave up on Ponder. Even in the depths of his struggles, Frazier and Spielman knew Ponder gave Minnesota its best chance at winning.
Now the fans know too.
Did Frazier and Spielman know what they truly had in Webb? Were they still enamored with the physical gifts of the third-year player? Did they believe he was a capable backup, which looks incorrect based on Saturday night’s performance? What did they see in Bethel-Thompson?
Now longer is the question whether Webb deserves his chance at starting. The Vikings season ended because they didn’t have a capable backup to Ponder. One has to wonder whether veteran Sage Rosenfels, cut following the preseason, would have been better suited to backup Ponder. This was largely, from outsiders’ views, expected to be a rebuilding season. Minnesota lost the chance to continue its unlikely playoff appearance because of the lack of a suitable backup. Rosenfels might have served the Vikings better — especially after Webb was seldom-used in the regular season — in a road playoff game.
What is clear is the calls for Webb have been silenced. Fans know why Ponder was never benched and the question now involves what the Vikings do this offseason to backup Ponder. After wishing for Webb, fans might be ready to voice their opinions again if Webb is the backup next year. And not in the way they’ve called his name in the past.