Christian Ponder is going to face a monumental challenge when he makes his NFL starting debut Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Not only are the Packers the defending NFL champs, they haven’t lost since a 31-27 loss to the Patriots last December. It would seem if you were sending Christian to anyone, it should be the Lions. Instead it’s the Packers.
Ponder is the fourth member of the quarterback draft class of 2011 to make it to the field. The others haven’t set the NFL on fire, but they have all accounted for themselves pretty well.
The first rookie of the Class of 2011 to start was Cam Newton and he debuted an impressive showing – completing 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards, two touchdowns and passer rating of 110.4, as well as rushing for a touchdown. Any doubts the Panthers had about putting the No. 1 pick out on the field were quickly alleviated. While he had his struggles – he has at least one interception in five of six games and has a passer rating of 78.3, he has become a dynamic playmaker who has seven TD passes and six rushing touchdowns through six games.
Much less was expected from Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton after the Bengals refused to get into the draft frenzy of quarterbacks in the first round and took wide receiver A.J. Green with the fifth pick and snapped up Dalton in the second round. He replaced Bruce Gradkowski in the season opener and came off the bench to complete 10 of 15 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown – not killer numbers, but enough to earn a passer rating of 102.4. The team hasn’t looked back since. Dalton has taken every snap at quarterback and has played well enough that the Bengals finally parted with disgruntled holdout Carson Palmer because they are convinced they have their guy. Dalton and Green have built an early rapport and look to be a tandem that will be together a long time in Cincinnati.
Next to the party was Jacksonville. In his second game as the starter, Luke McCown was so dismal that he had a passer rating of 1.8 – completing just six of 19 passes for 59 yards and four interceptions. The Jags made the call to make the future the present and Blaine Gabbert became the starter. He has started each of the last four games and while he has struggled (completing 60 of 123 passes (48.8 percent) for 717 yards with four touchdowns, two interceptions and a pedestrian passer rating of 71.1, he has done so against a strong collection of playmaking defenses – Carolina, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. He hasn’t been spectacular, but has been a solid game manager for a team devoid of impact offensive players other than Maurice Jones-Drew.
Ponder joins that club Sunday, leaving only Jake Locker of the Titans as the lone first-round rookie QB that hasn’t already made it to the field. To date, three have and they have all kept the job. The Vikings hope Ponder’s start Sunday will be the first of many more to come – both this season and beyond. He will become the fourth member of the club, and, if he mirrors the performance of the others that have received their opportunity already, he will make things interesting and start carving out his own path in the NFL.
Four Vikings didn’t participate in practice Wednesday – Percy Harvin (knee), Phil Loadholt (knee), John Sullivan (concussion) and Jamarca Sanford (concussion).
The Metrodome will be Zombo-free on Sunday. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy announced that linebacker Frank Zombo has already been ruled out of Sunday’s game with the Vikings due to a knee injury, along with tackle Chad Clifton and DE Mike Neal. All three weren’t listed as “Did Not Paricipate” on the team’s Wednesday injury report, they were all listed as “Out.”
Linebacker Clay Matthews (quadricep), CB Sam Shields (concussion), guard Josh Sitton (knee) and LB Jamari Lattimore (shoulder) didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice.
It would appear as though Sidney Rice expected to remain a Viking after the NFL lockout ended. During the lockout, Rice was part of the filming of the FX TV show “The League” – a 30-minute sitcom based around the owners of a fantasy football league. The reigning champion, claiming to be as dominant as the 1985 Bears, created a music video called “The Shiva Bowl Shuffle” to mock his fellow league owners. In the video, the attorney who won the league the previous year mimics the Bears’ “Super Bowl Shuffle” with NFL players Rice, Jones-Drew and Brent Grimes of the Atlanta Falcons. Because the show isn’t under the NFL umbrella (much less filming during the lockout), the players weren’t able to wear their team jerseys, but wore the numbers and colors of their teams. It was clear that MJD’s jersey was a homogenized knockoff of a Jaguars jersey, as was Grimes’. Rice, however, wore a purple No. 18 jersey, giving the impression to some that he intended to remain with the Vikings – at least at the time of filming.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.