Christian Ponder (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder is approaching a poor game like a veteran, quickly putting it behind him, picking out the learning experiences and moving on.
Christian Ponder has tried to quickly forget about his welcome-to-the-NFL game at Green Bay.
Quarterbacks, after all, don’t last long if they dwell too much on their mistakes.
The Minnesota Vikings rookie was sacked three times, threw an interception and completed less than half of his passes Monday against the unbeaten Packers and their relentlessly blitzing defense.
“It’s already in the past. I’m already moving on,” Ponder said Wednesday.
He added: “I never anticipated it. I never wanted it to happen, and I didn’t expect it to happen. You’ve just got to learn from it.”
Ponder’s performance looked like a regression from his debut as a starter Oct. 23 against Green Bay, when he nearly rallied Minnesota to victory in a 33-27 loss. Ponder also played well in an Oct. 30 win over the Carolina Panthers, showing poise, confidence and a deft touch in the clutch on third down.
But he refused to wallow in discouragement by the blowout he and the Vikings endured against the rival Packers.
“We were looking to continue that momentum and go into Green Bay and get a win, but it’s football. It’s the NFL,” Ponder said. “You are going to win some, and you’re going to lose some.”
The Vikings (2-7) host the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
“With a short week you can put it behind you pretty quickly,” Ponder said. “We want to finish the second half of the season strong. We still have a lot of games left and a lot of wins that we can achieve.”
That won’t get them in the playoffs, but there’s the possibility of a positive carry-over effect for 2012 if Ponder and the rest of the offense can click down the stretch.
“There are going to be days where you’re not as successful as others, and you have to learn from those situations,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “I think he will, and our entire group has to learn from what happened on Monday night. Christian got some valuable experience that I think will help him down the road.”
Another game against Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and constant pressure applied by the Packers sure didn’t hurt his experience—even if it hurt his body.
Ponder’s left, non-throwing, hand was stepped on late in the game. But he had an X-ray that showed no break and said Wednesday it’s fine, just a bit stiff and sore.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers sent a linebacker or a safety to blitz on more than half of the plays. They also frequently kept a “spy” on him so he couldn’t scramble his way out of trouble for a first down.
Ponder acknowledged he needs to step forward in the pocket more effectively to keep speed rushers such as Matthews from taking him down or at least disrupting the pass and be quicker at finding the “hot” receiver—essentially the safety valve—on those blitzes.
He said he relishes the challenge of facing that pressure, too, which is good for the Vikings because they’ll certainly see a lot more of it while Ponder is still developing.
“Our mentality is that blitzes bring big plays. There a lot of holes in the defense when they are bringing somebody off the edge,” Ponder said.
There were two plays in particular that stood out against the Packers as rookie gaffes.
Without realizing Woodson was up at the line ready to blitz, Ponder missed an opportunity to change a running play to a short pass early in the third quarter on first-and-10. Instead, he handed off to Adrian Peterson, who went right and was smothered by Woodson for a 6-yard loss.
“Next time I need to throw a bubble route there and get the ball out to a wideout,” Ponder said. “He was an unaccounted guy, and I have to account for him and do something with the ball.”
In the second quarter, on second-and-4 near midfield, the Vikings called a flea-flicker. But the Packers didn’t bite when Peterson ran into the line with the ball. He pitched it back to Ponder, whose downfield heave for Devin Aromashodu was intercepted in double coverage by Tramon Williams at the 2-yard line.
“They did a good job. They played quarters, and the safety fell back on it and I underthrew the ball,” Ponder said, adding: “I should have eaten the ball. I should have tried to make something happen with my feet instead.”
From all that Ponder has shown in his short time with the Vikings, though, he’s not the kind of guy who needs a lot of encouragement.
“Christian is a mature guy, man, especially for being that young,” right tackle Phil Loadholt said. “He knows that. He played at a big-time program. He’s played in big games. There’s really nothing that I personally need to tell him. He knows it all already from that standpoint. It’s not always going to be perfect, especially in this league. We put it behind us and move forward and get ready for this week.”