EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In leading the Minnesota Vikings to a win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Christian Ponder showed why it’s necessary to stick with the second-year starting quarterback — something the team’s front office and coaching staff are determined to do.
Ponder, who had struggled for most of the previous five games, completed 24 of 32 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with nine different receivers and not committing a turnover. Sunday was the type of progress Minnesota needs to see from its franchise quarterback. Some had wondered about Ponder’s claim to that title, but the Vikings weren’t swaying on Ponder because of a few rough games.
“I know everybody in this organization believes Christian Ponder is our guy, and I have full, 100 percent belief that Christian Ponder’s going to be our quarterback heading into the future,” general manager Rick Spielman said Wednesday. “You also know that, as young guys develop, they’re going to have hiccups. But you’ve got to be patient, and I thought last week (offensive coordinator) Bill Musgrave did a great job without (leading receiver) Percy Harvin and what Christian was able to do last week, too.”
Ponder was anointed the team’s starter and long-term answer at the position heading into the offseason after he started the final 10 games of his rookie year. He embraced the role and worked all offseason to develop into a consistent, confident leader for Minnesota’s offense after a roller-coaster rookie season.
He started off his second year strong, helping the Vikings to a 4-1 record, but then fell flat — leading the team’s fans to call for backup Joe Webb. Spielman, though, said Ponder, the No. 12 overall pick in last year’s draft, will be given every opportunity to grow.
“I always have followed the three-year rule,” Spielman said. “The quarterback position — you’ve got to remember, our guy’s only in his second year. You look at the history of development of quarterbacks, and I’ve talked to you guys a lot about that. … I know they’re getting measured regardless if they’re a rookie or second-year (player). They’re going to get evaluated from the outside and from the media on their performance that week. But you have to be, from an internal standpoint, looking at the whole picture and looking at a length of time.”
Through 10 games this year, Ponder has again showed inconsistency. When he’s off, he looks short on confidence and unable to mount a credible threat in the passing game to go with running back Adrian Peterson’s league-leading rushing totals. When he’s on, he seems the poised, intelligent leader Minnesota believes he will develop into.
He has an 85.2 quarterback rating, 21st in the league, and has completed 65.2 percent of his passes (ninth in NFL) for 2,027 yards (20th), 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions (both tied for 16th).
Even if Vikings fans don’t like those numbers, they are right in line with Spielman’s expectations. The general manager said he wrote down projections for Ponder at the beginning of the season and believes his developing starter will reach those projections by year’s end. Spielman wouldn’t divulge the exact numbers, but he said he based them how some of the league’s top quarterbacks fared in their second seasons as starters.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, one of the leading MVP candidates this season, was an immediate starter his rookie year. In his second season, he had 2,916 passing yards, a 58.3 percent completion rate, 22 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions for an 80.9 quarterback rating. New Orleans’ Drew Brees was a 57.6 percent passer for 2,108 yards, 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions with a 67.5 rating in Year 2 as a starter. New York Giants Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning had a 52.8 percent completion rate for 3,762 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, good for a 75.9 rating.
Even former Musgrave protégé Matt Schaub of the Texans is a good example. Now leading Houston to the best record in the AFC, Schaub had a 66.1 percent completion rate, 3,043 passing yards, 15 TD passes and 10 interceptions with a 92.7 quarterback rating in his second year as a starter.
“It’s pretty phenomenal how history repeats itself as guys go through the development of a young quarterback,” Spielman said. “So, those are things that you look at when you’re developing a young quarterback. OK, he had a hiccup for a couple weeks — how does he respond? Well, he came out of that and responded pretty well last week. I think he ended up with a 114 quarterback rating and was very productive and probably would have been more productive, but we had a few dropped balls here and there, too. So, those are the signs that you’re looking at, not only from his physical ability but how he handles the pressure at that position from the mental standpoint, too.”