The Vikings are trying to get Christian Ponder prepared for his first NFL start as quickly as…
Peterson to Ponder: ‘Don't think, just play'
However, if the Vikings are going to beat the Packers, perhaps no player will be more important to that effort than Peterson. He said Thursday that the team has confidence in Ponder, but that the timing of his debut game – against the 6-0 Packers that have people looking at their final 10 games of the season to determine which (if any) team can beat them.
"He couldn't have come in to a tougher situation," Peterson said. "The defending champs and it's always a great rivalry against the Packers. So, just let him to go out there and have fun – don't think, just play."
Peterson's momentary anonymity was the result of speculation that gained steam when the McNabb-led Vikings crashed and burned in Chicago. The previous four losses had been painful in their own right, but primarily because they were all games the Vikings could have (and in at least two of them, should have) won. The 39-30 beatdown administered by the Bears was complete in every phase of the game. The last time the Vikings had a loss like that was a humiliating 31-3 caning from the Packers at the Metrodome last year.
At that time, the decision was made to fire Brad Childress. This time, the quarterback paid the price. Does Peterson think McNabb got a fair shake being singled out as the problem to the Vikings lack of success?
"I don't think so, but it is what it is," Peterson said. "You can call it ‘how you fit' (with the offense). Everybody's got their own opinion. I always say there are things we all can do better. I'm sure when he looks back, he knows, ‘Hey, there are some things I could have done better. Maybe I wouldn't be in this position.' I'm sure that he's looking at things like that. There are things I could do better. A lot of positions, guys can really improve on their play. It is what it is. This is the business that we decided to join, so you have to take it for what it is."
He added that, by the nature of his position, McNabb was under more of a microscope than other position players. When you are the veteran leader of the offense, the scrutiny is even blown even more out of proportion.
"Quarterbacks take more heat," Peterson said. "You hear people say all the time that this is a quarterback-driven league. All the emphasis is on the quarterback. When they feel like you're not performing, you're going to take heat. It is what it is."
Earlier this week when he announced the move, head coach Leslie Frazier said the move was made because, at this point, Ponder gives the Vikings the best chance to win. While Peterson may not believe it was fair to cut off McNabb's water, he said he is excited about the prospect Ponder brings.
Peterson said Ponder is relaxed in the huddle, taking things seriously, but keeps the mood light. He also said he was impressed with his speed, comparing him to a young version of Hall of Famer Steve Young. Peterson gave a breakdown of what he has seen in Ponder and why he may end up proving Frazier right in the assessment that a young, hungry Ponder gives the Vikings a better chance to win – this week and beyond – than an aging McNabb who at times appears to simply be going through the motions.
"He's poised," Peterson said of Ponder. "As far as his play, he's a smart quarterback that makes good decisions. It's one of the things I've noticed about him, even when he was in college. He has a quick release. He gets the ball out fast. He's athletic. He can extend plays by scrambling or running to pick up first downs and extra yards to keep the offense on the field. There's a lot I think he's going to bring to the offense."
When the Bears dominated the Vikings, they did so primary because their defense put eight and nine players in the box and smothered the run game. Given the replicating history of the NFL, other teams are going to do the same when they see it can be effective. Peterson said not only is he going to have to navigate a mine field of Packers defenders likely squeezing to contain, one of his main jobs may be picking up blitzes when the Packers bring the pressure to Ponder. Any defense headed up by Dom Capers is going to see a rookie QB on the other side and get a taste for blood. Peterson expects the Packers to bring the heat from all sides and said it will be a team effort to neutralize what is expected to be a risk-taking, kitchen-sink type of blitz package.
"It's going to be my job, the offensive line's job and (Ponder's) job to point and out and make the line calls," Peterson said. "As long as we're on the same page, we'll be OK. We each have our job to do. He's got his job to make the line calls and see the field. He's got to see it way more than me. I've to do my job and be in sync – notice different blitzes and things that they throw at us. The offensive line has to be in sync and know which calls to make so we will all be on the same page. We've done a good job of doing that this week in preparation so it's going be all about coming out this Sunday and everybody being on the same page. If we do that, we'll be able to pick up anything they throw at us."
While Ponder remains the talking point of Sunday's game, in the end it will be more on Peterson to carry the offense than the rookie QB. If Peterson doesn't succeed, the chances of Ponder having a big day almost go out the window. Peterson said the QB change has been the talk of the town, but not the Vikings locker room – much less No. 28 himself. One thing the Vikings and the fans may have in common is they want to see for themselves what the young fella can do.
"How does it affect me? It doesn't affect me at all," Peterson said. "I still have a job to do. How will it affect the team? We'll see this week. We'll see what (Ponder) does when he steps in there and plays for four quarters. I'm excited to see him in action."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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