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.”

Follow Brian Hall on Twitter