Christian Ponder (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
The Vikings made a move for the future and the present by making Christian Ponder the starter. With the way Donovan McNabb had been playing, there is little risk in the move.
After weeks of insisting Donovan McNabb gives them the best chance to win now, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier had to do an about-face Wednesday after announcing that McNabb has been benched for the season in favor of rookie first-round draft pick Christian Ponder.
"The decision was made purely on what will gives us the best chance to win on Sunday," said Frazier, whose 1-5 team faces the 6-0 Packers at Mall of America Field. "That's why the decision was made. I didn't feel or sense that staying status quo was going to get us a win on Sunday.
"Based on that, along with some other things that I looked at, I decided this was the direction we needed to go at this point in our season."
Although the Vikings are playing their archrival at home, there are little to no expectations on Ponder. The fans will cheer him and simply be satisfied that the inaccurate McNabb has been benched. And the Vikings are 8-point underdogs, so it's not like there's pressure on Ponder to not blow the game.
Ponder obviously was thrilled by the news. And happy that he was able to make his NFL debut by playing nearly the entire fourth quarter of Sunday's 39-10 loss at Chicago. He went 9-for-17 for 99 yards.
"The biggest thing for me was going out and making a couple of throws and making a couple of plays and realizing, 'Hey, I can do this,'" he said. "I think it instilled a little confidence in myself. And I think it was that first step, that first experience. I'm going to try to build up from there."
Meanwhile, McNabb gave his support to Ponder, but said he didn't agree with Frazier's decision to bench him. It was McNabb's third benching in two years, including twice last year in Washington.
"It was (a surprise), and the frustrating part of this whole season is where we're at right now," McNabb said. "Obviously, as a quarterback, you want to do whatever it takes to get more wins than losses. But the frustrating part about it is looking across the board at what we have and the way that we've been playing as a team. That's frustrating for me."
McNabb ranks 19th in the league in passer rating (82.9). He also has only two interceptions, tying St. Louis' Sam Bradford for fewest by a player who has started all season. However, McNabb also ranks 30th in third-down passer rating (60.9) and third-down completion percentage (43.8).
"As any other competitor, you obviously want to compete with your team and prepare and look forward to the opportunity of getting back on the field and changing things," McNabb said. "But unfortunately it's not so.
"(Frazier) is the head coach and decisions are made. At this particular point, it's (important) for me to continue to prepare and make sure that we continue to support Christian and make sure that he's ready. But most important for me, is to prepare because I'm just one play from going back in. Just make sure I'm ready when called upon and try to lead us to victory."
McNabb said he still "has a lot of football left" in him. But it won't come in Minnesota. He turns 35 Tuesday and is under a one-year deal with the Vikings.
The Vikings are doing two things by switching to Ponder this week: 1) they're finally turning their attention to their future in a division that has three teams with solid franchise quarterbacks already in place; and 2) they're starting the quarterback who gives them a better chance to win now.
Although McNabb has thrown only two interceptions, it is now a tough argument to make that he gives them a better chance to win. Not when the team is 1-5 and the passing game has been this poor. And not when the 12th overall pick in the draft hasn't been given a chance to show what he can do.
Ponder is more mobile and faster than McNabb. If offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave gives him bootleg packages and moves the pocket around, Ponder will be more effective. In the preseason, Ponder was a different quarterback inside and outside the pocket.
Inside the pocket, he was hesitant and unsure. Outside the pocket, he was confident and in rhythm. Ponder also has a nice chemistry with fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph, a promising tight end who could become a bigger part of the offense.
Good, bad or ugly, the Vikings have started the Ponder era. Considering their record and the fact they play in a division that has three teams with young, established franchise quarterbacks in place, the decision is a no-brainer.