Christian Ponder says opponents and observers have always underestimated his speed and athleticism, going all the way back his high school days in Texas.
Maybe now that he is playing on the game’s biggest stage, everyone will start getting the message.
Ponder made more plays with his legs than his arm to direct two touchdown drives and make a push for the backup quarterback job as the Minnesota Vikings beat the Houston Texans 28-0 Thursday night.
Ponder completed 10 of 17 passes for 83 yards and one touchdown in the preseason finale for both teams. He rushed eight times for 61 yards and didn’t turn the ball over while playing just over two quarters.
“I think they see I’m white and they think I’m slow,” Ponder joked. “I think that’s definitely one of my positives is my feet and buying extra time and getting out of the pocket if something breaks down. It just happened to work really well tonight.”
Head coach Leslie Frazier said he had to hold his breath a few times when Ponder took off running, especially when he was sliding head first into the defense.
Ponder is competing with Joe Webb to be the primary backup to Donovan McNabb. Webb went 5 for 6 for 43 yards.
Frazier declined to name a winner after the game, saying they will evaluate the competition in the next few days.
“Just seeing him tonight be able to spit out the plays in the huddle, the command that he showed, the poise that he showed compared to Aug. 1 when we had our first practice, he’s come so far,” Frazier said. “It really makes us believe he’ll just continue to get better and better like we all expected.”
Matt Leinart was 13 for 16 for 145 yards for the Texans, looking efficient as he prepares to back up Matt Schaub this season. Newly signed receiver Bryant Johnson had three catches for 64 yards.
Adrian Awasom had two sacks and a forced fumble and Caleb King rushed for 62 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings, who open the regular season at San Diego on Sept. 11.
Both teams rested almost their entire starting lineups with the regular season opener just 10 days away. That made for some ugly play throughout the game, with down-the-roster names trying to make one more good impression for final cuts are made Saturday.
Texans tight end Garrett Graham had six catches for 71 yards and Chris Ogbonnaya rushed for 62 yards and had two other long runs called back because of holding penalties. Texans coach Gary Kubiak was hoping to have Steve Slaton (hamstring) play, but he was held out, and the Texans now have to hold their breath to see if star running back Arian Foster’s hamstring will be ready by the time they open the season at home against Indianapolis.
“We were very lucky,” Kubiak said. “Tonight we got out healthy.”
Cornerback Brandon Burton intercepted a pass and Marcus Sherels added a nifty punt return that may have sealed his roster spot for the Vikings.
Ponder was a little ragged, especially on his throws from in the pocket. But the rookie made plays when he had to, eluding the Texans’ rush, blitzing linebacker Tim Dobbins in particular, time and again to pick up big chunks on the ground.
The rookie is clearly most comfortable operating on the edge on designed rollouts, or when the pocket breaks down and he tries to buy time by scrambling. On the lone scoring drive he led, an on-the-run Ponder completed a 17-yard strike to Jaymar Johnson, then eluded Dobbins to rush for 15 yards before he hit Kyle Rudolph for a 5-yard TD, his first touchdown as a Viking.
In contrast there was Leinart, the six-year veteran who has never fulfilled the promise he had as a Heisman Trophy winner at USC. Despite his uneven play throughout his pro career, he looked much more polished and at ease in the pocket, hitting big plays down the field to Graham and Johnson, who just signed on Monday to try to bolster depth behind Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones.
“I was very impressed with Matt Leinart,” Kubiak said. “I thought Matt Leinart played very good and that was important.”
But the Texans’ drives were all derailed by penalties and Neil Rackers’ 42-yard field goal attempt hit off the left upright just before halftime.
Leinart played with Johnson in Arizona, so the two already have a rapport that showed on Thursday night.
“I’ve been able to pick up the offense probably a little faster than I thought when I first saw it,” Johnson said. “I’ve played for a lot of different coordinators, so you can marry some things together and it helps you learn and process a lot.”
Notes: Frazier said the Vikings are still waiting to hear from the NFL on whether they will have DT Kevin Williams eligible to play against the Chargers. Williams lost a long court battle over a suspension for taking a banned diuretic three years ago.
The Vikings have an open competition for the starting strong safety spot, and Frazier said they are still evaluating whether Jamarca Sanford or Tyrell Johnson will start in Week 1.
The Texans finished with 10 penalties for 99 yards.