Christian Ponder (Bob Donnan/US Presswire)
Christian Ponder has handled most of his challenges to this point, but Monday night will offer all the tests of the NFL – undefeated team, Lambeau Field, Monday Night Football and potential cold and rain.
As if a rookie quarterback facing the defending Super Bowl Champions and an 8-0 team during his third start wasn’t challenging enough, Vikings rookie Christian Ponder will have to deal with the aura of Lambeau Field, the bright lights of Monday Night Football and potentially difficult weather.
Other than that, Ponder should have an easy time shredding the Cheeseheads.
But Ponder has already proved he can at least keep it close against the Packers. He led the Vikings to a 17-13 halftime lead on Oct. 23 at Mall of America Field, fell behind 33-17 after two third-quarter interceptions and still came within a touchdown of beating the still-undefeated team in his first start. Still, Ponder knows the circumstances in front of him.
“Undefeated team at their house in Lambeau, historic Lambeau on Monday night. There’s a lot of things to get excited about, but you’ve got to treat it as any other game. We’ll be fine,” he said. “The crowd will be into it. It will be an electrifying atmosphere, but the crowd’s not playing. They’re not playing on the field. Once the game gets underway, you kind of zone that stuff out.”
Ponder admitted that nerves got the best of him in his first start against Green Bay, as he was throwing on the field three hours before the game. After that close loss to the Packers, he led the Vikings to a 24-21 win on the road at Carolina before the team had its bye week.
Now he has an opportunity to face another challenge in a whirlwind season of firsts for a rookie, but he seems unaffected by the process as he continues to perform in the most pressure-packed of situations – in the fourth quarter and on third downs.
“Looking forward to my first experience in Lambeau Field, my first Monday night game,” he said in his opening statement Thursday. “Second go-round with these Packers, these Cheeseheads. It’s going to be fun.”
It might also be cold. The weather forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of showers with a low of 35 degrees on Monday, which could be a challenge for a player who grew up in Texas and played his college football at Florida State. Even Vikings alumni of the 1960s and ‘70s admit that the coldest game of their careers was not one in old Metropolitan Stadium but a cold, rainy day in Atlanta.
Ponder could be facing similar elements if the cold and rain converge over Green Bay Monday night. He has already played in cold temperatures, doing that last year at part of Florida State’s late-season game at Maryland, as well as the ACC Championship Game.
“It was 32 degrees and raining. It wasn’t even snowing, which was brutal,” he said. “You just get out there, you play, you get warmed up and it’s fine.”
Ponder, who practiced in shorts and short sleeves with temperatures in the 30s Thursday, said he will survey the field before the game, taking in the important basics, like where they play clocks are located and what the field conditions are like.
And he will try not to be tempted into matching the throws of his counterpart Aaron Rodgers, whom Ponder referred to as the league’s MVP this year. Despite the comparisons some are making between Ponder and Rodgers early in his career, Ponder said he doesn’t specifically study Rodgers, limiting his exposure to highlights of him.
“I don’t watch him at all. You see highlights of him and obviously he’s an unbelievable player,” Ponder said. “He’ll probably be this year’s league MVP. We’re all different. We’re all different techniques and advantages and disadvantages. … He’s an unbelievable quarterback.”
Ponder grew up knowing the magnitude of Monday Night Football. His dad, who also played for Florida State, used to attending rotating neighborhood football parties on Monday nights when Christian was growing up.
Despite all the challenges in front of him – Lambeau, national television and facing the undefeated defending world champions – he is keeping it in perspective. He has been playing well, and once he gets on the field, the big stage should be secondary to the play-by-play of the game.
“He fared fairly well in his opening start against Green Bay a couple weeks ago,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “I’m sure there will be some wrinkles that they didn’t show on tape that they may show in this next game.”
CB Antoine Winfield (neck) was a full participant for the Vikings on Thursday. G Anthony Herrera (knee), CB Chris Cook (not injury related) didn't participate.
The Packers have already ruled out LT Chad Clifton and LB Frank Zombo with hamstring injuries, as expected. LB Clay Matthews (knee) didn't participate. DE Mike Neal and G Josh Sitton (knee) were limited.
Frazier said he will continue to keep the lines of communication open with Cook, who was reinstated to the 53-man roster earlier this week but won’t be part of the football proceedings because he is dealing with charges of felony domestic assault against him.
“We’ll talk from time to time, see how he’s doing and so on. I’m sure I’ll get information as to what’s going on with him,” Frazier said. “Probably be more listening than talking, just to be updated on what’s going on.”
Herrera may try to do some limited work in the coming days, but it doesn’t sound like he is likely to play Monday night.
“We’ll see. We’re going to see what he’s capable of doing,” Frazier said. “Our trainers are telling me that he’s making progress, but we’ll see if he can get out this week and try at all. If he can, it will be good for us, but we’ll have to try to take it day to day and just see where he is.”
Herrera attended practice on Thursday, but wasn’t taking part.
What was Frazier’s assessment of the coaches’ self-scouting process on bye week? “It wasn’t so much what the other teams were doing,” he said. “There were some execution issues in all phases that we think we can improve and really eliminate, starting in (Thursday’s) practice.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.