Christian Ponder (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Rookie Christian Ponder blamed himself for the Vikings’ 27-21 loss Sunday to the Oakland Raiders. Despite Ponder throwing three interceptions, there was plenty of blame to go around.
Christian Ponder’s normally upbeat demeanor was long gone after the game, replaced by a sullen expression. He forced three throws he shouldn’t have made, and each one cost the Minnesota Vikings dearly.
Carson Palmer passed for one touchdown and ran for another score in a 27-21 victory Sunday over the Vikings, who fell to 2-8 for the first time since 1962.
“I’ve got a lot of learning to do. I’ve got a lot of room to improve,” said Ponder, who fell to 1-3 as a starter.
Michael Bush rushed for a touchdown and 109 yards—the first 100-yard rusher against Minnesota this season—for the Raiders (6-4), who barely held on in a mistake-filled fourth quarter after a scary neck injury for wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey.
Adrian Peterson left the game at the end of the first quarter after spraining his ankle, putting even more responsibility on the rookie Ponder. He threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and had the ball back at the 3-minute mark with 71 yards needed for the go-ahead touchdown, but his fourth-down pass to Percy Harvin was knocked away by the Raiders.
“They got a lot of pressure on us,” Harvin said. “They dialed up a lot of blitzes, and we didn’t pick them up very well. Ponder couldn’t set his feet sometimes and wasn’t able to make the read. It’s something we have to get corrected, because every team is going to be watching that.”
Ponder placed all the blame on himself. Two of the interceptions led directly to 10 points for the Raiders, including one that he threw across his body off his back foot into heavy traffic, and the other one was in the end zone.
“I know I’ve got to put my team first and not feel sorry for myself,” he said, adding: “I’m going to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s going to be no good to sulk and feel bad for yourself.”
Palmer, who completed 17 of 23 passes, led the Raiders to touchdown drives after two turnovers and a botched field goal by the Vikings, helping Oakland take a 27-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
Ponder found Harvin for a 26-yard screen pass that cut the lead to 13. Three Raiders penalties helped the Vikings move into scoring range again on the next possession, but Stanford Routt intercepted Ponder at the edge of the end zone to end that threat.
“Not smart,” Ponder said, acknowledging he should’ve thrown the ball away because the Vikings were going to go for it on fourth down.
Bush fumbled a few plays later, and Ponder quickly zipped a 37-yarder in double coverage to Visanthe Shiancoe to set up a 1-yard toss to Kyle Rudolph with just over five minutes to play that cut the lead to 27-21.
Minnesota’s defense held one more time, giving the Vikings the ball at their own 29 with three minutes to play. But Ponder couldn’t get them any closer than that. He finished 19 for 33 for 211 yards and rushed five times for a season-high 71 yards.
“We’re not good enough to overcome some of the mistakes that we’re doing to ourselves,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “So we need to figure that out, or we’ll be doing what we’re doing right now, talking about a loss.”
Frazier acknowledged Ponder’s poor decisions, but he was more concerned by some of the other mistakes made by his sputtering team.
“Nobody in that locker room feels good about playing a close game,” Frazier said.
The Vikings botched a field goal attempt in the second quarter holder Chris Kluwe bobbled the snap and couldn’t recover in time, preventing Ryan Longwell from even trying the kick. Kluwe was tackled for a 12-yard loss, and the Raiders went the other way in eight plays and 57 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-7.
Then Lorenzo Booker fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Raiders the ball at the 16 with about 90 seconds to go in the first half. Palmer sneaked into the end zone from 1 yard for a 24-7 halftime lead.
“Each week we say we’ve got to correct stuff, and obviously it isn’t getting corrected,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “I don’t know. We’ve got to figure out something. You’d think we’d learn from it and cut it out, but it seems to be contagious around here.”